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Odometer rollback fraud on the rise in Tampa and across Florida

Used cars are fraud targets for unsuspecting buyers
Posted at 6:25 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-12 09:29:11-05

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — According to Carfax, the number of rolled-back odometers in Florida jumped to 75,000, a 19 percent increase in 2020 compared to 2019.

Carfax ranks Florida fifth in the nation when it comes to vehicles on the road with rolled-back odometers. Local Carfax reports 18,300 vehicles on the road with a rolled back odometer in the Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota area, a 16% jump from the previous year.

Pasco County resident Robert Stennett says he thought odometer fraud was a thing of the past until he purchased a 2007 Dodge Charger from a local car lot in June 2020.

“It looked like it had been taken care of, low mileage,” he said.

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The contract said the vehicle had 131,000 miles on it when Stennett bought it from a Pasco County car lot last June. Stennett says he got suspicious after the car kept breaking down.

He showed ABC Action News repair bills involving work on everything from the engine to the shocks in the weeks and months after purchase.

Then he checked the Charger's history.

“I got extremely mad,” Stennett said, after discovering the Dodge had 182,000 miles on it when it changed hands — two owners ago — in 2017.

Carfax spokesperson Emilie Voss said people assume odometer tampering doesn’t happen anymore.

“It’s a huge misconception that odometer rollbacks are a thing of the past and it doesn’t happen with these newer digital odometers,” Voss said.

Thieves are getting around new car technology with a tool they can purchase online for a few hundred dollars.

Josh Ingle the owner of Atlanta’s speedometer says that the same tool is used for legitimate instrument repairs, but it can roll back mileage in seconds.

“265,000 miles showing on the odometer and with the push of a button….it’ll go down to 85,000 miles,” he said.

Vehicles with lower mileage sell for thousands more than those with more than 100,000 miles. And, as Voss points out, high mileage means high maintenance.

“A vehicle with 85,000 miles that you think had 85,000 miles has a totally different maintenance schedule than a vehicle with 265,000 miles on it,” he said.

The Carfax report for Stennett’s Dodge posted a potential odometer rollback alert in 2018 when a dealer reported an odometer reading of 126,000 miles, 60,000 fewer than the year before. The vehicle was then sold to a different car lot which sold the vehicle to Stennett.

The dealer didn’t want to take the vehicle back until Stennett made a “Call for Action.”

“As soon as you wrote them it was like the lights came on [and] they decided to do something,” he said.

In December, the car lot cut Stennett a check for $7,000. It included a full refund for the car and half of what he paid for repairs.

“It feels really nice to have it behind me,” he said. “And to know that someone is out there willing to help the consumer.”

Tips for buying a used car

If you’re considering buying a used car here’s some advice:

  • Log on to the State of Florida’s website and put in the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to check the last recorded mileage on any vehicle. The service is free of charge.
  • Never buy a used vehicle without a vehicle history or Carfax report.
  • Check the car for excessive wear on the driver's seat or brake pedal which may indicate more miles than the odometer shows.
  • Consider paying for a pre-purchase inspection. Paying a couple of hundred dollars upfront could save you thousands of dollars down the road.