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Odometer Rollback Fraud

Imagine you saved your money wisely for that car that you have always wanted, it is that shiny convertible that you have been dreaming about cruising around town with the top down. You realize the depreciation issues with purchasing a new automobile so you decide to go the used/previously owned route. You find the car, the correct color, interior, and mileage just under 35,000, and make the purchase from an automobile dealer. During the purchase, you sign several documents and one that appears for your signature is the Federal Odometer Disclosure pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 32705, it states that the vehicle has 34,000 miles. After purchasing the vehicle, you clean out the glove compartment and recognize some service receipts, upon reviewing them you learn that your newly purchased convertible actually had 75,000 miles three months prior to your purchase and 79,000 miles one month prior to your purchase. It is likely that you have been victimized by odometer rollback fraud. While you may be upset that this occurred, the effects of this fraud can be pervasive, such as, your newly purchased convertible has a significantly lower fair market value than what you paid, increased insurance costs, increased financing costs, and increased maintenance costs.

Carfax estimates more than one million cars on the roads across the country have had their odometers altered in some way. Unfortunately, Florida is one of the hotbeds of odometer fraud. There are estimates that there are approximately 60,000 vehicles on the road in Florida that have had their odometers rolled back, many of them are on the road in South Florida.

If you have been a victim of odometer rollback fraud then it is very likely that you have a lawsuit against the person and/or entity that sold you the vehicle. Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 32705, titled Disclosure requirements on transfer of motor vehicles, the person transferring ownership of a motor vehicle shall give the transferee the following written disclosure:

  • Disclosure of the cumulative mileage registered on the odometer.
  • Disclosure that the actual mileage is unknown, if the transferor knows that the odometer reading is different from the number of miles actually traveled.

The disclosure requirements are where persons and/or entities that sell cars with rollback odometers often get caught “red handed.” It is not illegal to sell a car with an odometer that was rolled back as long as it is appropriately disclosed that the actual mileage is unknown. This disclosure rarely occurs when a car with a rolled back odometer is sold.

Additionally, the Federal Odometer Law, 49 U.S.C. § 32703, prohibits a person from the following activities:

  • Advertise for sale, sell, use, install, or have installed, a device that makes an odometer of a motor vehicle register a mileage different from the mileage the vehicle was driven, as registered by the odometer;

  • Disconnect, reset, alter, or have disconnected, reset, or altered, an odometer of a motor vehicle intending to change the mileage registered by the odometer; and

  • With intent to defraud, operate a motor vehicle on a street, road, or highway if the person knows that the odometer of the vehicle is disconnected or not operating.

What can a consumer do to prevent being victimized by odometer rollback fraud? Below are several items that should be considered and analyzed when purchasing a used vehicle:

  • If the odometer is of the older, analog variety rather than digital, check to see if the mileage numbers are aligned. Examine the 10,000 digit very carefully.

  • Check for service stickers, including, but not limited to, oil change receipts, tire receipts, and any and all receipts when the car was serviced and/or repairs were rendered.

  • Check the owner’s manual for maintenance records. If it appears that pages were removed, make an inquiry as to why.

  • If purchasing the car from a dealership, ask the dealership if they conducted a computer check, if they did make an inquiry as to what they determined.

  • Carefully review the vehicle’s title. Oftentimes there are signs of alteration right on the face of the title.

  • Take note of the title’s issue date. Was the vehicle sold very near the date it was issued, if so, this is often times a common indicator of a rollback.

  • Does the vehicle have the normal wear and tear with the miles listed in its odometer? For example, a car with 140,000 miles has significantly more wear and tear than a vehicle with 40,000. Check the arm rests, carpet, steering wheel, and pedals. A lot of wear could be a sign the car has more miles on it than the odometer indicates.

  • Order a vehicle history report from a service like Carfax or Autocheck, all you need to make the request is the vehicles VIN number.

In addition to criminal penalties, the Federal Odometer Act allows for civil actions by private persons. 49 U.S.C. § 32710, provides that any person that violates any section of the chapter with the intent to defraud is liable for three times the actual damages, or $10,000.00, whichever is greater, and prevailing party attorney’s fees. Brendan A. Sweeney, Esq., of Sweeney Law, P.A., The Florida Debt Warrior, regularly handles automobile and automobile dealer fraud claims. If you think you have been victimized by odometer rollback fraud on your vehicle then please contact Sweeney Law, P.A. at 954.440.3993 to protect your rights.

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