Car buyers must watch out for odometer tampering, minister warns

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Consumers are being warned about odometer tampering after a four-fold increase in the number of fines issued for the offence in NSW, with hundreds of thousands of kilometres being knocked off vehicle odometers and sold to unsuspecting buyers.

Minister for Fair Trading Eleni Petinos said as used motor vehicle sales have risen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so too have incidents of odometer fraud where perpetrators wind back the mileage or replace the odometer with one showing fewer kilometres.

“NSW Fair Trading Investigators dished out $112,200 in fines and 76 penalty notices in 2021 and 2022 – a huge jump from 22 total penalties in 2020 – so anyone considering conning a potential buyer by odometer tampering should know that when you are caught, it’s going to cost you,” Ms Petinos said.

“In one case a seller shaved off more than 400,000km off a 2012 Subaru XV, reducing the odometer from 470,000km down to 52,709km. The vehicle was then sold for $32,000, an $11,000 increase on the original sale price.

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“In another example, a 2009 Toyota Hilux was resold for $30,980, more than five times its sale price of $6,000, after the odometer reading was lowered by about 280,000km.

“To intentionally rip off a fellow everyday Australian just trying to buy a second-hand car is abhorrent and our NSW Fair Trading inspectors will continue to go after the crooks who think this type of behaviour is OK.”

Ms Petinos said consumers should always conduct due diligence when buying a used motor vehicle, particularly if it has a low odometer reading for its age.

“If it seems too good to be true, it just might be, so it’s worth taking extra measures to make sure you don’t end up with an expensive mistake,” Ms Petinos said.

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“It is important to see the registration paperwork and proof of ownership of the vehicle, as well as meet the owner and sight their identification.

“Have the vehicle inspected by a licensed repairer and conduct a Personal Property Securities Register check (PPSR) or buy a vehicle history check.”

Most cases investigated by NSW Fair Trading have been carried out by individuals without motor dealer licences. The vehicles are commonly advertised on online sites such as Facebook Market Place and Gumtree under fictitious profiles.

Those selling the vehicle often change the registration plate and use third-party individuals to sell the vehicles on their behalf in an attempt to distance themselves from the crime.