OAKLAND, Calif. —
You might think digital odometers on modern vehicles car can’t be rolled back, but DMV officials tell 2 Investigates that they are even easier to roll back than older odometers.
The amateur videos posted on the Internet look like something out of a video game. In a matter of seconds, digital odometers are rolled back, sometimes by tens of thousands of miles, at the touch of a button.
Investigators say it’s only some of the evidence of a troubling rise in odometer fraud in California. A recent study by vehicle history reporting website Carfax found more odometers are illegally “rolled back” in California than anywhere else.
The same study reports more than 295,000 cars with rolled back odometers were on the road in California. California was also at the top of the list of states with the higest percentage of rolled back odometers, ahead of Nevada, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas.
The U.S. Department of Justice estimates victims of this kind of fraud lose an average of $4,000 per vehicle.
Keat Fleckner of Livermore is among the recent victims.
Fleckner bought a 1990 Toyota pick-up with about 150,000 miles for $2600. He didn’t know he had been duped until his engine blew out.
“The first thing that goes through your mind is, I’m in the middle of the highway and my truck’s not running,” said Fleckner.
A Carfax vehicle history report revealed the odometer had been rolled back by as much as 150,000 miles, meaning its true mileage was closer to 300,000 miles.
“Then you start reflecting: Did I just buy a piece of crap?” asked Fleckner.
Fleckner chose to keep the truck, but repairs cost him another $5,000.
At DMV headquarters in Sacramento, Commander Tom Wilson showed 2 Investigates how criminals are easily changing digital odometers with equipment meant for mechanics working on cars involved in accidents.
“In previous years, we would get just a few cases trickling in. Now it just seems like the floodgates are open,” said Wilson.
Two recent cases involved more than 500 vehicles, according to Wilson. He showed KTVU more than 50 instrument panels seized by investigators.
In one of the cases, investigators arrested three men for selling more than 200 cars with rolled back odometers. Wilson says the men moved the cars between the Bay Area and Central Valley to try to cover their tracks. The suspects also altered car titles to reflect the new lower mileage.
“By their own records, we found they profited almost $296,000 before the radar was even focused on them,” said Wilson.
Virtually all of their business was done on Craigslist. Investigators say they search the website on a regular basis, looking for red flags. Experts say cars most likely to have their odometers rolled back are 14 to 15 years old.
Fleckner has now taken on a second job to help pay for the unexpected expenses that came with his truck.
The DMV has published a list of tips and advice to help consumers avoid becoming victims of odometer fraud. Carfax also offers a free way to check a car’s odometer history on its website.