An Action News Investigation exposes odometer fraud

February 26, 2014

An Action News Investigation discovers how easy it is for just about anyone to change the miles on an odometer and fool you into buying an old, rundown piece of junk.

The bottom line is this fraud has been going on for decades, because rolling back those miles is an easy way to make a buck when selling a car.

And while many people might believe new electric odometers made rollbacks impossible, we've found committing that fraud now takes only a matter of seconds, and could cost you thousands of dollars in repairs.

"I do a lot of airport runs, New York, Philadelphia area," said Brian Mitchell.

Brian Mitchell has been driving limousines and taxis in South Jersey for more than 7 years.

"I saw this Town Car on their lot, and I was in need for a vehicle," he said. "So when he saw this Lincoln town car for sale, the price looked just right. I took it for a test drive and immediately bought it."

But a few days later he had a nagging feeling something wasn't right, and decided to pull the Carfax. He was shocked by what he saw.

"About 45 to 50,000 miles they rolled back. But who rolled it back, I don't know," said Brian.

The dealership advertised the car as having 173,000 miles on it, but the Carfax shows a history at New York inspection stations where the miles on that same Lincoln Town Car were documented over and over again at numbers much higher than that.

At its highest in 2011, the report showed the car had 205,000 miles on it. A few months later the odometer was suddenly reporting only 158,000 miles during another state inspection; a rollback of 47,000 miles!

"I was furious that I could be defrauded like that," said Brian.

Carfax Spokesperson Chris Basso says Mitchell is hardly the only unsuspecting buyer who has been duped.

"Our research shows that the majority of rollbacks are at least 50,000 miles, and most of the cars have over 100,000 miles. So they are rolling it back to get it under that magic line of 100,000 miles," said Chris Basso.

Carfax has found there are about 1 million cars on the road nationwide with an odometer rollback, and 40,000 in the Philadelphia area.

"Most of the cars sold by these con men are on the side of the road, through sites like Craigslist. And I don't think there's a coincidence that the cars that are susceptible to this scam are about 14 to 15 years old," said Basso.

But Mitchell bought his car at a New Jersey reputable dealer, so Action News went back to Richard Lucas Chevrolet looking for answers.

When asked if they rolled back any of their odometers, the dealer quickly said no.

"That's a silly question and the answer is absolutely not. And to do so in the age of electronics is very difficult," said John.

6abc decided to investigate the dealers claim and went to Penn Co Tech to see if it is possible in the electronic age to change the miles on a car.

In a matter of 3 minutes, a student there was able to take the few steps necessary for an odometer to be completely changed.

There are also devices sold on the internet that can help would- be con men roll back the numbers at the touch of their fingertips.

"For a consumer to identify whether their odometer has been changed or rolled back is nearly impossible," said mechanic Patrick Geer.

Mitchell ended up having to replace the transmission in the Town Car 50,000 miles earlier than he expected.

Carfax estimates each person who falls victim to an odometer scam loses about $4,000.

"What am I going to do? I'm stuck," said Brian.

The dealership told Action News that if anyone was scammed, it was them, with both Mitchell's car and another car we identified on their lot that also indicated a potential rollback.

They said they would look at Mitchell's case, but also say Carfax is not 100% infallible.

Carfax is offering free odometer checks to Action News viewers.

Visit for the offer!

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