Pennsylvania consumer protection: odometer fraud remains alive and well

Economic times are tough and sometimes even buying a used car is a financial challenge. In Pennsylvania and nationwide, that used-car purchase can quickly become a nightmare when it turns out that the odometer was illegally reset to indicate that fewer miles are on the vehicle than it has actually been driven.

As old as the scam of odometer fraud is, consumers normally do not expect in this day and age that they will be victims to it.

According to vehicle-history provider CARFAX, over 190,000 vehicles have their odometers tampered with annually, causing an estimated $760 million to consumers in value reduction and additional repairs. Federal authorities believe the numbers to be far higher.

TheIndyChannel.com's November 2014 article on odometer fraud tells the story of a Denver-area man who paid $6,000 for a 2003 Honda CRV for his daughter, only to have the odometer flip from 77,000 miles to 177,000 miles on the drive home from making the purchase. Investigation revealed that the car actually had 230,000 miles in its driving history and the seller reportedly said he flipped it in less than a day for a $5,000 profit.

A buyer who suspects odometer tampering can start with a comparison of the actual condition of the vehicle as compared with the stated mileage; review title and odometer records available through the state; purchase a vehicle history; talk to previous owners; and more.

Odometer fraud is illegal under federal and state consumer protection laws. In Pennsylvania, suspected odometer tampering can be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, known as PennDOT. When a vehicle is sold in the state, strict mileage disclosure responsibilities kick in for the seller.

However, a Pennsylvania seller may make the vehicle exempt from mileage disclosure if it is more than 10 years old.

On the federal level, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides consumer assistance in cases of suspected odometer fraud.

When a seller violates federal odometer disclosure laws, the defrauded victim may be able to sue the seller in a civil lawsuit in federal or state court for damages and legal fees. A similar right exists under Pennsylvania state law.

Anyone in Pennsylvania who suspects that he or she has been sold a vehicle with rolled-back mileage should speak with a consumer protection attorney with specific odometer fraud experience to understand potential legal rights and remedies.

The attorneys at Bensley Law Offices in Philadelphia represent consumers throughout the commonwealth in fighting odometer fraud as well as other types of automobile dealer fraud.