Scam of the week: the car clocking scam

Published by Ruth Jackson on 30 April 2012.
Last updated on 15 July 2014

odometer

The introduction of digital odometers - the bit of kit that works out how many miles your car has done - was meant to eliminate car-clocking.

Car manufacturers hoped the new computerised machines would be too much for crooks trying to boost the value of cars by rewinding the odometer. Unfortunately, as the technology has got smarter so have the criminals. As a result, car-clocking is still a big problem.

If you think you've been scammed get in touch by leaving a comment below or emailing us on scamwatch@moneywise.co.uk and let us know exactly what has happened.

WHAT IS CAR-CLOCKING?

Car-clocking is a practice whereby crooks take miles off a car's odometer so that it looks as though the car has been driven for far fewer miles than it actually has.

It's a lucrative con as it can add hundreds of pounds to the value of a vehicle. For example, taking 1,000 miles off the clock can add between £100 and £400 to the resale price, according to HPI, the vehicle history experts.

"Fraudsters know that low mileage, newer vehicles command the highest prices," says Daniel Burgess, managing director of HPI.

IS IT A BIG PROBLEM?

The number of clocked cars in the UK has increased by 10% over the past five years, says HPI. In fact, one in 20 cars are now believed to have been clocked. The problem is that it isn't illegal to alter the mileage on a car, only to cover it up.

This means that car clockers are free to advertise their services anywhere from eBay to classified adverts.

HOW CAN I CHECK IF MY CAR HAS BEEN CLOCKED?

"My advice to those buying a used car is to check that everything stacks up on the car you're planning to purchase," says Phil Jones, commercial director of motors.co.uk. "Ask yourself: does the mileage seem to be correct for the age and model of the car? How about the price? If it's too good to be true, it probably is."

Check around the odometer for signs of tampering, including badly aligned numbers, damaged screw heads or fingerprints inside the casing. However, digital odometers can be changed without removing them from the dashboard so there might not be any sign of tampering.

So be on the lookout for abnormal levels of wear and tear. Does your car's mileage say it's done 10,000 miles but the bodywork suggest otherwise? Equally, has the seller tried to hide the age of the car by replacing the pedals, steering wheel or driver seat?

Ask to see the car's service history and previous MOT certificates – these should show a steadily increasing mileage.

You can also get a history check done by HPI (hpicheck.com) for £19.99 to find out about anything dodgy in the car's past.

WHAT DO I DO IF MY CAR HAS BEEN CLOCKED?

If you find out your car has been clocked, or strongly suspect that it has, you should contact Trading Standards (tradingstandards.gov.uk). If the car has been 'misdescribed', you are entitled to a full refund under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 as long as you act quickly following the sale.

Leave it too long and it will be assumed you have 'accepted' the car and you will struggle to get any compensation.

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