Odometer tampering is a
consumer fraud that costs Wisconsin citizens millions of
dollars. It is particularly offensive because it hits
those hardest who are least able to afford costly
repairs. It benefits unscrupulous operators, frequently
from other states, who conspire to defraud you.
Resetting, disconnecting or altering a vehicle’s odometer to
conceal the true mileage is called "odometer tampering." It is
illegal for anyone to tamper with an odometer or to sell a vehicle
knowing that the odometer has been tampered with.
Whether tampering is done
by a backyard mechanic who resets the odometer before
trading for a new car, by a person who buys a gadget to
keep miles from registering on the odometer, by a dealer
who contracts with a "reconditioning" firm, or
by a multi-state used car mill, odometer tampering
violates state and federal laws, and is punishable by
fines, imprisonment or both.
A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration (NHTSA) concluded that there is a 3.5% chance that a car
has a turned-back odometer. Vehicles formerly owned by leasing companies
are often late model vehicles with high mileage. That makes them
tempting targets for odometer tampering specialists who turn them into
late model, low mileage gems that are highly desirable on the used car
Being aware of the
problem, and knowing what to look for when buying a car
is your best safeguard against odometer fraud.
Remember, odometers aren’t tamper proof. With the right simple,
inexpensive tools, a crafty odometer spinner can erase several thousand
miles from a vehicle’s odometer within minutes. Odometer spinners know
how to "launder" a title history by transferring vehicle
ownership from state to state so that it is difficult for investigators
to determine where and when the fraud occurred.
Take a long, careful look at the vehicle. Does the condition match
the miles on the odometer? Are the miles low, but the tires new or
mismatched by size, type or brand? The date the tire was manufactured
can be determined by coded numbers found on the tire. Have parts been
replaced that normally would not have been replaced on a low mileage
vehicle? Pay attention to parts such as batteries, hoses and clamps, and
fan or air conditioning belts. Is there excessive wear in the interior,
especially in the driver’s area?
Look for maintenance
stickers, warranties or other paperwork that may indicate
a higher mileage. They may be found under the hood, on
the air cleaner, on door jambs, in the glove box, under
seats or in the trunk.
Ask a qualified mechanic
to test drive and examine the vehicle. Also, ask that the
wheels be removed so the mechanic can inspect the brake
system for excessive wear or replacement parts. Paying
for an expert inspection before you buy may help you
avoid unexpected repair costs and a lot of grief later
Under state and federal law, the seller - whether an individual or
dealer - must provide the buyer with a written odometer statement.
(Vehicles ten years old or older, or with a gross weight rating of more
than 16,000 pounds are exempt from this requirement.) Wisconsin and most
other states show the odometer statement on the title. Ask the seller to
show you the title. Make sure the current mileage on the vehicle’s
odometer is greater than the mileage shown on the title. Alterations or
erasures make the title invalid. If the title is in a dealership name,
or the title has been transferred from dealer to dealer, be on your
guard. This could indicate a tampering problem
Wisconsin dealers are required to provide prospective buyers with the
names and address of a vehicle’s former owner upon request. If the
title shows that the vehicle was previously titled out of state,
seriously consider checking further before you buy. For more information
about vehicle history call Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)
Dealer & Agent Section at
(608) 266-1425 or
e-mail at email@example.com.
Carfax, a company that offers vehicle history reports, will run an odometer
accuracy check free
of charge. The check will indicate whether or not your vehicle has ever
been subject to odometer fraud.
All that is needed to run the check is the 17-character vehicle
identification number (VIN), found on the dashboard and title document.
If the check shows a potential odometer discrepancy, contact the WisDOT
Odometer Fraud Unit for assistance at (608) 267-0482.
For more information or help
The WisDOT Dealer & Agent Section licenses and regulates the motor vehicle industry, and
resolves disputes about dealership sales and warranty
repairs. They also investigate complaints about odometer
tampering involving dealerships and private sellers.
If you suspect your vehicle’s odometer has been tampered with, or
you would like more information about odometer regulations:
Wisconsin Department of
Dealer & Agent Section
4802 Sheboygan Avenue, Room 201
P.O. Box 7909
Madison, WI 53707-7909
To file a complaint
Complete and mail in WisDOT’s Dealer Complaint Form MV2338
readable copies or originals of documentation related to your vehicle
purchase or lease, such as: purchase contract, disclosure label,
title/registration application, finance contract, warranty documents,
odometer statement or repair bills. The information you provide will be
used in WisDOT mediation and enforcement efforts, and may be shared with
the party complained against. Under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law, your
complaint will be available for public review upon request.
All external hyperlinks are provided for your information and for the benefit of the general public.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation does not testify to, sponsor or endorse the accuracy of the information provided on externally linked pages.
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about the content of this page:
Division of Motor Vehicles, Dealer Section, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: January 12, 2006