Mileage Tracking

Odometer Rollback: How to Spot and Prevent Odometer Fraud

Samson Kiarie
Last update on:
April 18, 2024 2:39 AM
Published on:

According to Emilie Voss — Director of Public Relations for Carfax, many car buyers think odometer rollback vanished with the invention of digital odometers. This idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. It continues to be seen year after year, making it difficult for buyers to find genuinely good ‘second-hand’ motor vehicles. 

According to a Carfax report, odometer fraud cases rose 7% in 2022. Car buyers lost $4,000 per rolled-back vehicle, and to make matters worse, the majority didn’t even know they had been scammed. If you’re in the market for a used car, our guide will show you how to avoid fraudulent dealers.

If you’re worried that your employees are rolling the company vehicle’s odometer back or forward for their benefit, this guide is for you. We’ll shed light on everything you need to know about odometer rollback. You’ll learn how to spot odometer fraud, prevent the practice, and who to contact when you fall prey to odometer scams. 

We’ll also show you how the best mileage trackers put an end to this dirty game.

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Why Should A Vehicle’s Odometer Reading Matter? 

Before we get to the gist of this article, let’s get the basics out of the way. Why is the vehicle’s odometer so important?

The answer is simple: an odometer reading shows the mileage a vehicle has clocked since it left the manufacturer’s doors. It’s a good indicator of wear and tear on a car. The higher the mileage, the greater the wear on a vehicle’s components. Consequently, a high-mileage vehicle is worth much less than an identical low-mileage model. 

That said, the vehicle mileage isn’t the sole determinant of its value. How the miles were accumulated can make a difference, too. For example, highway trips and driving in stop-and-go city traffic impact the car differently. The latter is considered to cause more damage.

Other important factors impact a vehicle’s worth. The car’s previous accident and maintenance history records are important when calculating car value.

What Is A Car Odometer, And How Does It Work?

An odometer is a device that clocks the distance a vehicle travels. Keep in mind that the odometer logs every mile the car travels in forward and reverse gear. The odometer can be mechanical or digital. 

Traditional, Mechanical, Or Analog Odometers

Mechanical odometers, or traditional odometers, were all the rage until the early 2000s. These days, you won’t find a new vehicle model with this type of odometer. 

As the name suggests, the traditional odometers are mechanical, comprising a set of gears and a series of cables. The cables connect the vehicle transmission to the odometer. When the vehicle moves, it spins the cables, turning a set of gears connected to a numbered dial to log the mileage. 

Digital Odometer

Digital odometers dominate the market today. This type of odometer replaces the series of gears and cables with magnetic or optical sensors tuned to record the number of times the car transmission output shaft turns. 

The sensor relays the information to the vehicle’s onboard computer or the engine control unit (ECU). This unit uses an algorithm to calculate the distance traveled by the vehicle based on the size of the tires and their rotations. 

What Does Odometer Rollback Mean?

Odometer Rollback is when a car’s odometer has been fraudulently tampered with.  This act makes it seem like a vehicle has lower mileage than it really does.  It’s sometimes referred to as “busting miles” in the U.S. or “clocking” in Canada, the U.K., and Ireland.

Why Do Dealers and Sellers Roll Back Odometers?

Often, dealers will roll back a vehicle odometer to artificially increase its value. For example, a 2013 Toyota Camry with 100,000 miles might be valued at $12,000. The same vehicle/model with 200,000 miles on it might fetch a significantly lower value of $7,800.

If a dealer rolls a 200,000-mile Camry’s odometer back to 100,000 miles, they will profit an extra $4,200. It’s easy money for the dealer, but the unwary buyers feel the pinch.

The unsuspecting buyer spends top dollar on the vehicle under the impression that it’s in prime condition and expects years of trouble-free service. Unbeknownst to them, the car has more wear and tear than they are aware of.  In no time at all, cosmetic and functional damage rear their ugly heads. 

Within months of purchase, irritating breakdowns become more prevalent, causing buyers to incur maintenance costs such as tire and oil changes sooner than hoped. It also quickly dawns on the buyer that the vehicle’s resale value is a fraction of what they first thought. 

How Odometer Rollback Happens

Rolling back an odometer can be as simple as plugging in an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) or On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) tool and resetting the car mileage. Manufacturers of these tools create them to enable mechanics to diagnose car issues. However, shady dealers and sellers use them to alter the odometer illegally. 

You don’t need to be a mechanic to recalibrate the vehicle odometer. With a few bucks and basic car computer knowledge (which can be acquired by watching YouTube videos), you can easily roll the vehicle odometer back or forward.

Rise Of  Odometer Rollback Fraud: Why Do Dealers Do It?

Odometer tampering is easy and profitable. News headlines of police arresting odometer fraudsters are more common now than ever before, and big corporations have been caught in the act too.

In a recently shocking case, FedEx was accused of rolling back vehicle odometers. The company allegedly replaced the gauge clusters on vans and trucks, hiding their actual mileage. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), over 450,000 vehicles fitted with illegally altered odometer readings are sold each year. The crime costs used car buyers in the U.S. a staggering $1 billion each year.

A recent study by Carfax revealed that more than 1.9 million cars on U.S. roads have a rolled-back odometer. That staggering statistic alone doesn’t tell the whole story. The table below shows the leading states in odometer fraud: 

odometer fraud leading cases
The leading states in odometer fraud

How To Detect Odometer Fraud: Signs Of Odometer Rollback

Bear in mind that detecting whether the odometer mileage is false can be difficult. 

Unfortunately, digital odometers have no visible moving parts, making it harder to detect 

whether they have been tampered with. 

If you’re thinking about buying a used vehicle, the first step to take is to check whether it has ever been reported for odometer fraud. Of course, even if it wasn’t reported before, there isn’t a guarantee that the odometer reflects an accurate mileage reading.

Due diligence shouldn’t end there. If you suspect odometer rollback fraud, these are the steps you can take:

Compare Mileage Records With The Odometer Reading

Check the title and compare the mileage records with the mileage shown on the vehicle’s odometer. The car’s maintenance records and inspection records are a great source of data. The vehicle’s odometer readings should be included in these reports. These documents make it easy to check for signs of odometer rollback fraud.

Go Through A Vehicle History Report (VHR)

A vehicle history report (also known as a VIN check) is a detailed report that provides information about a used car’s condition. Getting the history report is beneficial in more ways than one. You’ll be informed of the vehicle’s damage history, lien status, and more. It also contains the registration history that includes odometer readings. 

This means you can compare the numbers from the report with the current odometer readings. This type of data also gives you a chance to check if the pattern of mileage driven over the years is logical. 

Any inconsistencies in the odometer readings can be considered a red flag. If the seller doesn’t have this report, you’ll need the vehicle identification number (VIN) to obtain it online.

Check For Physical Tampering In Manual Odometers

Inspect manual odometers for signs of physical tampering. There are a few essential things to be mindful of when checking the odometer for signs of rollback. For starters, the numbers should be readable, there should be no gaps between them, and they shouldn’t seem crooked. 

Misaligned numbers are a reason for concern. If you see something like that, it’s likely the readings have been altered. Also, inspect all the dashboard screws and clusters. Check whether they are original and whether they match the ones shown in the manual. 

Compare Appearance With Mileage Clocked

Compare the vehicle’s appearance with the reading on the odometer. It is not always easy to conclude whether the odometer reading matches the wear and tear on the vehicle. Minor damage can be repaired to some extent to deceive the buyer. 

Some signs of wear and tear are more obvious. The gas, brake, and clutch pedals can indicate the vehicle’s actual condition. Examine the tires, too - if the odometer displays 20,000 or less, the vehicle should still have the original tires. 

Consult Your Trusted Mechanic For Detailed Inspection

For digital odometers, you can consult a car servicing shop if you spot red flags. For example, if a vehicle has low mileage, but the interior is faded and worn, ask a trusted mechanic to inspect the ECU records. 

A vehicle’s ECU records the pulses captured by the magnetic or optical sensor and stores the correct readings. Car servicing shops normally have the proper tools to determine the vehicle’s true mileage if you suspect fraudulent acts. 

Is Odometer Rollback Legal?

No, odometer rollback isn’t legal. Odometer tampering that misrepresents a vehicle’s condition is considered a crime in the U.S. It’s been illegal since 1972. Since the government introduced the Truth in Mileage Act (TIMA)  in 1986, sellers must disclose the vehicle mileage on the title. 

Federal and state laws frown upon odometer fraud. The laws prohibit the seller from knowingly making a false odometer readings claim, whether they tampered with the odometer themselves or are aware that another person did it. 

Due to risks involved and the costs incurred by unwary American buyers, the federal government was prompted to declare odometer tampering a federal crime under Title 49 U.S. Code 32703. The law states categorically that no person should alter or disconnect the odometer to adjust its readings. 

What Is The Penalty For Odometer Tampering?

Violating Title 49 U.S. Code 32703 and other laws related to odometer fraud could result i9n criminal fines, civil penalties, and even imprisonment. Let’s examine  the punishments:

Civil Penalties 

Since odometer tampering isn’t taken lightly, the penalties for a conviction on federal odometer fraud charges can be costly and severe. If we are talking about civil penalties, fines can go up to $10,000 for each violation, up to a maximum penalty of $1,000,000.

If the crime involves a corporation, the perpetrators can be fined individually; the company won’t be exonerated, either. Not to mention, officers involved and the corporation could be subject to additional lawsuits by the state government and the Attorney General.  

Criminal Penalties

Any person who knowingly and willfully engages in odometer scams can face fines up to $250,000 and up to three years in prison. Keep in mind that criminal penalties are separate from civil penalties.

When addressing the penalty for odometer tampering, it’s important to note that these charges are often accompanied by other offenses like false representations about a vehicle’s mileage. 

Unsurprisingly, persons who alter odometer readings frequently tend to modify or forge documents that contain mileage records for the vehicle. This is treated as a separate offense in the eyes of the law.  

How To Report Odometer Fraud

If you’re a victim of odometer fraud, you should report the case. Reporting odometer fraud helps nip the act in the bud. When registered, the issue becomes a permanent part of the vehicle’s records, and it helps other buyers avoid getting scammed. 

Not only will you help other people, but the person or the dealership that committed fraud will be held accountable for their illegal actions. They can be punished by law for their criminal behavior. ‍

Agencies that deal with odometer rollback claims differ from state to state. So, who do you report odometer fraud to? 

  • Reach out to your local law enforcement agency, as they can inform you of your next steps.
  • Report suspected odometer fraud to your state’s consumer protection agency.
  • Contact an experienced attorney who specializes in dealing with odometer fraud cases. 

Can Employees Roll Back A Company Vehicle’s Odometer?

Odometer fraud tends to be more associated with dishonest dealers and individuals. However, when recently discussing Timeero’s mileage-tracking capability with a potential client, they brought up an interesting take on odometer fraud. 

timeero mobile app preview
Timeero automatically tracks business mileage when an employee exceeds a predefined speed threshold.

Since it’s becoming so easy for anyone to tamper with a digital odometer, have any employees rolled company cars’ odometers forward or backward? To date, there are no reported cases of this nature, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely out of the question. 

Picture this - a delivery driver takes the longer, more scenic route, and a missed delivery lands them in trouble. If this mishap puts their job on the line, what is preventing them from rolling back the car odometer to cover their tracks? Nothing. 

Imagine if a company is preparing to auction off old company cars, and an employee has their eye on the vehicle they regularly drive. With the availability of OBD tools, the employee can easily roll forward the car’s mileage to purchase it at a  significantly lower price.


While these cases are hypothetical, they could very easily happen, putting your company on the downward course with the authorities. This begs the question, how can you prevent rogue employees from rolling back vehicle mileage? It may be tricky to accomplish, but you can give automatic mileage tracking tools a shot. 

The Solution: Record Mileage Accurately With Mileage Tracking Apps

The best mileage tracking apps, such as Timeero, generate mileage records that are difficult to dispute. Using a mileage tracking app helps prevent odometer fraud while also streamlining employee reimbursement. 

Let’s explore how Timeero assists in preventing Odometer Rollback.

Automatic Mileage Tracking

The Timeero mobile app uses motion-detection technology to track mileage when the vehicle exceeds a predefined speed. 

Notice how the vehicle’s odometer records every mile the car moves, while the Timeero app only tracks mileage when:

  • The vehicle exceeds a preset speed threshold 
  • The driver is clocked in to eliminate privacy concerns  

How, then, does Timeero prevent odometer fraud?

Although Timeero won’t necessarily discourage odometer fraud related to price gouging, it will decrease vehicle misuse associated with inaccurate mileage logs. 

Since it tracks mileage automatically, an employee can’t falsify their miles to claim a higher reimbursement. Plus, Timeero stops recording travels once the user clocks out, which is excellent for privacy and compliance.

Route Replay

Earlier, we mentioned a case where an employee rolled back the odometer to erase their trail. Adding Timeero’s route replay to your tech stack makes it easy to catch dishonest employees. 

timeero route replay
Timeero route replay enables you to monitor employee movement during work hours. 

As the name suggests, this feature enables you to recreate the employees’ route while clocked in. 

You can see where an employee was during the day and open the breadcrumbs to zero in on intricate details such as their speed.

This, coupled with the mileage tracker, can hint at whether an employee has altered the vehicle odometer readings. You’ll be able to ascertain whether they took a scenic route during business hours and make an informed decision.

Segmented Tracking

If you have a field sales team, there are more pressing issues to worry about than odometer fraud. The time they spend with the customer is a good case in point. Ideally, each sales rep should spend quality time with potential customers to earn their business. 

Ordinally, the reps have to clock in when they arrive at the client’s location and clock out as they leave, which can be time-consuming.  Timeero segmented tracking saves your sales rep from unnecessary hassle. Reps clock in once, complete business tasks, and clock out when done for the day. 

This feature splits an employee’s work-day into travel time and activities completed while on site, letting you see all the pivotal details, such as distance covered, time spent traveling, etc. You’ll have a detailed visual representation of an employee’s entire work day at a glance.

timeero segmented tracking
Timeero’s Segmented Tracking provides a detailed view of employee driving and parking time.

Suggested Mileage

If you follow our guide on how to spot odometer fraud, you’ll most likely land a used car in great condition. The car should give you years of trouble-free service, and you can use the suggested mileage tools to reduce wear and tear.

Generally, the more miles a vehicle covers, the more wear and tear your vehicle will experience. The suggested mileage feature evaluates past trips to propose the shortest distance to each destination. It minimizes the distance the vehicle covers, thus reducing maintenance costs. Learn more in our full Timeero review

Other Timeero Features:

  • GPS location tracking
  • Time tracking with geofencing and facial recognition
  • Commuter Mileage
  • Employee scheduling 
  • Message Blast

How to Avoid Odometer Fraud With Best Practices And The Right Tools

Once you've found the perfect vehicle for your business needs, you must protect its integrity and value. This is where a top-tier mileage tracking app like Timeero steps in. 

By accurately tracking and recording every mile driven, Timeero safeguards your business assets and ensures peace of mind.

Embrace the power of the right tools and best practices – with Timeero, you’re always a step ahead in the game against odometer rollback and misuse.

FAQ: Odometer Rollback 

Is It Possible to Roll Back a Digital Odometer?

Yes, it’s possible to roll back a digital odometer with an OEM or OBD tool. 

What Does Rollback Mean on an Odometer?

Rolling back an odometer means altering odometer readings to make the vehicle look like it clocked fewer miles than it did. 

Can Odometer Rollback Be Detected?

Yes, you can detect odometer rollback in multiple ways, such as by inspecting the vehicle history report or comparing mileage records with the mileage shown on the odometer. 

What Is the Penalty for Odometer Tampering

The civil penalty for odometer fraud is $10,000 for each violation, whereas the criminal penalty can be up to $250,000.

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Samson Kiarie

Samson is a mathematician turned content marketer specializing in SaaS and Tech content. He focuses on the practical aspects of software systems while keeping abreast of the industry’s cutting-edge principles to create informative and engaging content. When he’s not writing, Samson spends time playing or watching soccer.

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