Every year, odometer fraud costs consumers $1 billion, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.Many believe this is an old crime that disappeared with digital odometers, but it didn't. NHTSA estimates more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings.
In one recent example, a Mesa car dealer got caught swapping out odometers. According to court documents, Santiago Ramirez Montelon at Pacific Auto Sales in Mesa bought high-mileage used cars at car auctions, replaced the gauge clusters, and got new titles from ADOT to show the fake, lower mileage before advertising the vehicles online. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich says the former car dealer did this at least 23 times between 2014 and 2017. A settlement is now providing a total of $30,000 in restitution to the people who bought cars with much higher mileage than they realized.
"I was surprised myself that this is happening all over the country," Brnovich told 3 On Your Side. "Arizona ranks 11th in the country in odometer fraud, so there are unscrupulous used car dealers out there literally trying to rip you off by rolling back the odometer."
According to Carfax, an estimated 1.8 million vehicles on the road right now have had their odometers rolled back, up 13% compared to 2019. There are ways to spot the issue before you buy a used car.
"Most consumers drive their car about 12,000 miles a year. That's the national average," Brnovich said. "So if you're buying a car that's 10 years old that has only got 40,000 miles on it, that should be a huge red flag that somehow that odometer or software has been tampered with in some way."
Consumers should also evaluate the wear and tear of the vehicle, take it to a mechanic who can help you determine if car parts look more used than the mileage suggests, and check a vehicle history report that can provide information about maintenance and mileage.
Consumers who suspect odometer fraud should report it to the AZ Attorney General's office.