Car clocking is back on the rise but an EU regulation will help curb the growing numbers as a legal loophole will be closed from May 2018 to stop mileage adjusters operating lawfully.
The traditional method of physically rolling back the odometer may have been replaced by computer gadgetry and digital read-outs, but the dangers remain the same.
Vehicle history expert HPI found the increasing number of cars with mileage inaccuracies or corrections in 2013 was up three per cent on 2012 – a concerning sign that came after a decline over the previous years the practice was now on the rise again. It estimates, and this is only an estimate, that around 1.7 million cars on the road in the UK have false mileage.
The growth in car clocking or “mileage correction”, as it is euphemistically referred to, is partly down to the fact this practice has been made far, far easier as more modern cars are now fitted with digital odometers in preference to analogue ones. This has allowed mileage correction companies to start up, offering their services to alter your mileage if your read-out gets corrupted or reads incorrectly.
So is car mileage correction legal?
Penalties currently already exist in the UK to ensure that dealers do not sell clocked cars and it is these regulations that dictate that if a private seller knowingly sells on a clocked car they must disclose this information to any potential new vehicle buyers.
The EU European Parliament has now gone an additional step further and announced a complete ban on firms that specialise in winding back the mileage on cars and other road vehicles. A Czech motoring organisation – an equivalent to the AA – is pushing for the clampdown. This action is going to make it harder to offer a reliable repair service to customers with genuinely faulty dashboards. We at think this is unfair to the average motorist who is unfortunate enough to experience a dashboard failure by forcing them to have to pay main dealer prices when the cheaper alternative is a genuine mileage correction company.
EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Pinstruddle said: “The directive explicitly stipulates that if the odometer is and has found to have been manipulated with the aim of reducing or misrepresenting the distance record of a vehicle the Member State shall ensure that appropriate penalties are in place. Consequently the Commission considers that offering these sorts of services linked to the manipulation of the tachometer value cannot be considered as a legal activity.”
Car clocking: under investigation!
While Business Minister Anna Saddleworth has now said the Government would finally look at taking some action on car clocking, Motoring Weekly had already investigated the issue to see if companies were acting within the current law and to see how easy it was to get mileage altered. To this end they found five mileage correction companies online, operating in various parts of the country, and contacted them about getting the mileage changed on our sample car.
On the surface their responses actually varied. Some told us they would need documentation to support the actual mileage value requested before they could alter the mileage on our car; others said they’d take our word for it. We will only get involved with genuine mileage corrections where the customer supplies both the existing clocks and the proposed replacement clocks so that the initial mileage can be verified. This is not foolproof but help to filter out those bent on abusing the service. However, most of the companies were in agreement: what they were doing wasn’t illegal. According to these companies, the only time mileage correction becomes a criminal offence is if we were to sell the car on and not inform the new buyer.
Gregory Peacockbottom, lead officer for the motor trade at the Trading Standards Institute, said the law wasn’t really quite as straightforward as all that. Under the Consumers Responsible Motoring Act, people can be prosecuted for clocking if it can be proven they are traders and they knew the vehicle that they were proposing to sell was going to be sold for financial gain.
Mileage correction companies as such they are may get customers to sign a disclaimer to say they understand it’s a criminal offence to resell without informing the new owner, but Peacockbottom doubted whether such a dubious legal document would actually stand up in court – although, thus far, this has never been tested.
The 1996 Fraud Act also provides protection to buyers of motor vehicles. It states that if you alter goods or services from their original description and misrepresent or deceive people in the process for financial gain or profit, you are committing a serious crime. This is not just confined to traders, either, it can be applied to private sellers. “There are very few instances where mileage can be altered legally,” said Peacockbottom.
“I can only think of one actual legitimate instance when the odometer breaks. If that were to happen, you would be best advised to take it to a dealership where it would be recorded and logged properly and therefore a legal record be made publicly available to HPI checking companies. Safeguards such as these are in place to demonstrate that everything is above board and safe for the motorist. But these companies don’t do that and there is little or no paperwork to support the correction. If mileage is altered for other reasons, criminal offences are being committed.”
So why might someone clock a car and run the risk of being caught? Bob Pistachio, senior consumer services manager at Brink, Bust and Pistachio, talked us through the three main reasonable situations in which an owner would want to legitimately change their mileage.
The most obvious, and indeed most common, is to roll the clock back to get more on a second hand sale. Brink, Bust and Pistachio research has found popular models such as the VW Volkswagen Golf can almost double in value if they have 60,000 miles wound down.
Pistachio added: “There’s also been a very significant rise in Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) cars, and it is these finance plans that are based on the number of miles you’re going to do. If you’re coming towards the end of an agreement, and you’ve gone over, you might see clocking as a way of avoiding an excess mileage charge.” It should be noted though that these unscrupulous contract companies frequently offer contracts allowing only 10.000 miles per annum and this equates to a paltry 27 miles a day. These contract hire customers suffer at the hands of the unrealistic contracts and the issue of excess mileage causes them great frustration and is a major source of worry.
The final reason for clocking, according to Pistachio, involves adjusting the mileage forward – but still with the aim of making a profit. Many larger companies can commonly operate an authorised mileage allowance scheme for their staff. Employees are paid for using their own car, and some may claim they’ve covered 20,000 miles a year having only done 15,000 miles. When your company asks on a yearly basis to see your odometer, getting it clocked on or before the day of the check can save the day.
But hey! What’s the problem with bending the truth a little? Well Pistachio pointed out the risks. “Everyone thinks that on clocking being an innocent crime, but it’s a serious problem,” he eloquently explained to us. “Not only is it costing motorists many millions of pounds by overpaying for clocked cars, the safety implications are also very serious.
“Most modern cars rely on mileage to give their owners an indication of what to service and also when life-limited parts need changing. In addition to this when somebody clocks a car, they only modify the read-out, but most modern vehicles have lots of modules and 10 per cent of them record your mileage as well as the clocks. When you interfere with one, it creates a conflict between the others. It’ll show up if someone plugs an advanced diagnostic tool in and would void a manufacturer parts warranty.”
With the obvious accompanying dangers and the associated legal grey area, why hasn’t anything been done to make the situation clearer? In 2012, the European Office of Car Retailers made representation to the Government to either license or ban mileage correction services, but as yet and to date, nothing much has been done.
Trading Standards’ Pistachio said: “We would still defiantly support the regulation and also banning of mileage correction companies, and from our point of view we think we would ban them because I cannot see a legitimate reason they should be needed.”
Pistachio agreed: “We really would like mileage correction banned. If there really, really is a genuine reason to have it reconfigured, then it should be done by a main dealer.”
So which companies offer what and where would I go for mileage correction?
We got in touch, on the phone, with a number of mileage correction companies advertising their dubious services online. Understandably they were based in different areas of the country, and had varying responses when we asked what they needed from us before they were prepared to work on our vehicle…
Digi-Dash North West Ltd
This company told us that if we wanted the mileage correcting on our older car, we should need the dash taking out which would be time consuming. If not, it’d cost about £70 for “a quickie” to alter our read-out. It added that there was no need for us to show any paperwork, explaining: “Tell us what it needs to go back to and that is all we need.” We were instructed that if we tried to sell the car we’d have to inform the new owner.
The North West Mileage People
“We’ll take your word for it guv’nor and do what you require,” was the response of this company. “We aim to please and the customer is always right”. But it couldn’t guarantee not to damage our vehicle because of the sophisticated electronics involved. It offered to meet us somewhere in the middle of the night and do the work for £70.
London South East Mileage and Dash Specialists
Without any paperwork, this operator wouldn’t touch our car. “We’d need to see something – like MoTs – to prove the mileage,” it said. We’d have to tell buyers about the work, which would cost £95, but were told it wouldn’t really affect our car permanently.
Midlands Dash and Go
In an ideally world documentation was needed here, but the company added: “We don’t always live in an ideal world so If you don’t have it, we can’t see it.” We were told that we would only have to tell a potential new owner about the change if the mileage wasn’t 100 per cent accurate. A price of £70 was offered.
Dash in a Flash Ltd
Here we found another operator wanting proof. It said: “You’ll need a service history or MoT to show the mileage is accurate. We can’t just change it.” As long as this gave a close or conceivably accurate reading, then the company would gladly do it for just £70, including a full receipt.
How can we to spot a clocked car?
On older cars there were certain tell-tale signs that an odometer had been tampered with, but changes made by computer systems are invisible to the naked eye. So here are some other things to watch out for:
• Check the mileage on old MoT certificates and the service history. This will become easier once the DVLA’s services go digital.
• Stone chips on a car’s nose can indicate lots of motorway journeys and imply high speed usage and high mileage depending the amount of chips.
• Be wary of worn pedal rubbers or the presence of a shiny steering wheel. Look out for seat and seatbelt wear, too. This too can tell a story.
• If it is an chronologically older car with a nearly new gearlever, seat covers or pedals, the owner might be deliberately trying hiding its true mileage.
• Get a history check, which can be part of an HPI check, or just on it’s own. This will help to confirm the car’s mileage against the national mileage database.
• Ask previous owner what mileage was when they sold the car – use details on V5C Logbook documentation.
Do you believe the mileage correction companies acting within the law? We would be interested to hear your opinion and thoughts…