Clocking, the practice of adjusting a car’s odometer to make it appear that a vehicle has a lower mileage than the actual figure used to be such a widespread problem that it was almost a cliché, the hallmark of dodgy dealers in new and used cars.
The switch from mechanical to digital odometers has made clocking considerably less easy and commonplace. However, an investigation by a national newspaper has revealed that the scam is alive and well in today’s motor trade. Private firms offer odometer alterations for as little as £40. The newspaper’s representatives found four companies willing to perform the service, even when they were told that the aim was to increase resale value.
It is possible to do this legally due to a loophole in the law. While it is a criminal offence to profit from mileage adjustment, for instance by selling a car in the knowledge that the odometer has been altered, and not declaring this to the buyer, simply making the alteration is legal. Once an odometer has been changed, it is often virtually impossible to detect that work has been done on it.
There can be a legitimate need for adjustment. In cases where a broken odometer has been replaced by a second-hand spare from another vehicle, the odometer might be adjusted to give the true reading.
In the UK, it is estimated that up to three million cars, accounting for almost 10% of vehicles on the road, may have had their mileage adjusted. As well as low mileage cars having increased resale value, drivers who, on the face of it, have a low annual mileage may benefit from claiming more for the vehicle from their insurance policy.
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Mileage alterations are particularly desirable for personal contract purchase, or PCP, customers, who have bought a car on trade plates with the help of a finance company. While the car is being paid off, it is the property of this company, with an annual mileage restriction and a per mile fine for drivers who exceed it.
However, altering a car’s mileage is not simply a matter of dishonesty. Since vehicle engines and components wear out with use, a car with a higher actual mileage than that displayed on the dashboard may be dangerous for both its driver and other road users, with parts such as brake pads long overdue replacement. Companies performing odometer adjustments will be outlawed by 2018, according to proposals from the EU. The UK government is aware of the loophole, in a statement Business Minister Anna Soubry has promised that the law will be tightened up to prevent clocking.