As used cars surge in popularity, illegal odometer tampering is also on the rise

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Because of the pandemic, many don't want to board mass transit or get in rideshares. New car prices are high, so many consumers are turning to used cars.

Auto website iSeeCars.com says that has caused prices to increase nearly 10% from last year. Now a Carfax study finds a 13% increase in illegal odometer rollbacks.

With electronic odometers widely used for 20 years, many believe odometer tampering is more difficult now or even a crime of the past.

On my Facebook page one person posted, "In my grandad's day this stuff was commonly done."

"I think when we think of odometer rollbacks, a lot of us picture those analog odometers, somebody rolling it back manually," says Emilie Voss of Carfax. "But the digital adopters can actually be tampered with and it can take a matter of seconds."

Voss says 1.8 million cars now on the road have had their odometers tampered with. She set up a demonstration.

"So we're going to be looking at a 2007 Chevy Silverado," she says, "that currently has 265,000 miles on it. So a Carfax history-based value estimates that specific vehicles value at about $14,200."

Josh Ingle owns Atlanta Speedometer, a company specializing in instrument cluster repair. He is performing the actual mileage change.

"I'll show you how easy it is real quick. I just started the programming with this device. I've got 265,000 miles showing on this truck, and once I enter in my new number, you'll see 85,000," he says.

Just like that... miles disappear and the estimated worth of the truck increases.

"That changes the value of the vehicle to about $22,700," Voss says, "So that's a difference of about $8,500".

The devices turning back the mileage have legitimate uses and so are widely available. I saw a group selling them online starting at less than $200, and there are also plenty of online videos explaining how the devices work.

So how do you protect yourself? Check the car's mileage before buying. Carfax offers vehicle history reports for purchase, but also offers an odometer fraud check for free. You might want to also check the National Insurance Crime Bureau's free "VIN Check." There, you can see if a car has been reported to the bureau as stolen or salvaged.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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