Car dealer fraud: rolling back the miles

They say that numbers don't lie. But recent reports suggest that the mileage numbers on the odometer in the car you buy from a Philadelphia dealer might.

There is a reported trend among private auto sellers and small-time car dealers to use an obscure federal regulation as an excuse to roll back odometers on vehicles more than 10 years old. As you undoubtedly know, it is illegal to roll back miles and can be prosecuted as fraud.

The federal odometer law says requires dealers and other vehicle sellers to provide in writing a vehicle's mileage to a prospective buyer. However, vehicles that are 10 years old and up are exempted from the requirement.

When the law was written in the 1980s, cars did not last as long as they do today, so there were few vehicles sold then that were 10 years old. Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says, it recognizes that "vehicles last much longer and are increasingly becoming the target of odometer fraudsters."

A TV station's investigative reporter recently looked at the practice of odometer tampering by some used car dealers. The reporter answered an ad for a 2006 Ford F-150, listed at $7,750. The ad stated that the truck had "only 129,000 miles."

The station examined the claim by looking first at the dashboard odometer (it showed 128,763 miles) and then by obtaining a CARFAX report on the vehicle. The report revealed that the pick-up actually had 188,698 miles on it, for a difference of 60,000 miles.

The dealer claimed to have no knowledge of an odometer rollback. "I don't have an explanation," he said. "I don't know anything about it." And yet the station's investigation showed that the mileage had decreased after the dealer purchased the vehicle.

We cannot make auto dealers obey the law, but we can help car buyers protect themselves if they have been taken advantage of by a fraudulent dealer. Contact an experienced consumer protection attorney at Bensley Law Offices in Philadelphia for more information.

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