Roughly 114,000 vehicles in DC region have rolled-back odometers

Centreville, Virginia-based car history company Carfax reports odometer rollbacks are on the rise nationally, with roughly 2.1 million vehicles on the road with altered mileage, up 14% from a year ago.

In D.C., Carfax reports roughly 33,000 vehicles have rolled back odometers, 24,800 vehicles in Maryland do, and Virginia ranks in the top 10 for vehicles with rolled back odometers, at 56,000.

Increased demand for used vehicles — because of pandemic-era supply chain chokeholds that reduced new vehicle production — means used vehicles are worth more, and a used vehicle with lower mileage is generally worth more than one with higher mileage.

Carfax compared two 2018 Ford F-150 trucks, one with 50,000 miles and one with 150,000 miles, and the difference in value between the two was about $10,000. Consumers lose an average of $4,000 in value from unknowingly buying a rolled-back car, and that doesn’t include any unexpected maintenance costs.

“You may not know how worn the shocks and struts are. You may not know how well the belts and other rubber parts in the engine are holding up. You may not know if you’ve missed critical maintenance and service items over that time as well,” said Patrick Olsen, editor-in-chief at Carfax.

Missed maintenance and service can also be a safety risk.

“Rolling back” an odometer refers to physically rolling back the wheels that display accumulated mileage on older cars. Computer monitored vehicles and digital dashboards actually don’t make it any harder for crooks to hack mileage.

“There are devices that are sold online for legitimate purposes. There are mechanics who need to reset a digital odometer. Other people, scammers, will use them and roll back anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 miles off a car,” Olsen said.

It’s fairly easy to spot a vehicle that’s had its mileage tampered with by reviewing the vehicle’s history. Carfax history reports show the progression of mileage climbing over time through regular safety and emission inspections, and re-registrations. Carfax also advises having any used vehicle consumers plan to purchase, either through a dealership or third-party seller, inspected.

Carfax has a free Odometer Fraud Check online that requires only the vehicle’s VIN to search its database for a reported odometer rollback. DMVs require a permanent title mark for vehicles that have had their odometers falsely changed.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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