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How to tell if a used car's odometer has been rolled back

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — COVID has pushed more and more people to buy used cars. In June, used car sales were up 22%, largely because people don’t want to use mass transit or be near others. 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates on its website that more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings. NHTSA says this crime costs American car buyers more than $1 billion annually. 

“We want consumers to know how to spot odometer fraud, how to protect against it, and who to contact if you think you're a victim of this illegal behavior," NHTSA says on its website.

RELATED: Buyer Beware: Odometer rollbacks on the rise

If you buy a used car, you want the mileage and condition to reflect the price.

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Cars in motion on wide asphalt street with road signs

In a demonstration with Carfax, WCNC watched a technician roll back a digital odometer on a 2007 Chevy Silverado with 265,000 miles valued at right around $14,000. It was rolled back to 85,000 miles, which changes the value to $23,000.

RELATED: Why buying a rental car could save you a ton of money

“So, you might end up paying $8,000 or more for this vehicle that was tampered with in just seconds” said Emilie Voss with Carfax.

And there will be secondary costs too, like unexpected repairs because it’s older than you think. So, what’s a non-car person to do? How would someone even know an odometer has been tampered with at some point?

“One of the better things to do is to look at something that is going to have a lot of ware, like a brake pedal, they’ll look at the engine and other components that will help determine a little bit of ware,” said Josh Ingle, owner of Atlanta Speedometer, a company that specializes in instrument cluster repair.

Of course, take it for an inspection with someone you trust before you buy it, that step will save you money and headaches and pay for itself if fraud is uncovered.

“If someone has a problem with you wanting to have the car or truck inspected before you buy it, then that is a huge red flag, go somewhere else,” said Tom Bartholomy of the Charlotte Better Business Bureau.