Urgent warning for any Australian buying a used car: ‘Frightening’

Urgent warning for any Australian buying a used car – that could end up costing you thousands

Odometer fraud is on the rise with an undercover investigation revealing potential used car sellers can wipe thousands of kilometres off for as little as $150.

Second-hand car buyers are encouraged to use websites like Clockcatcher to check the odometer of their potential car from when it was last sold.

Buyers in NSW can use the government’s Service NSW website to check a vehicle’s last three odometer reading for free. The feature is available under the Check a Vehicle Registration section.

Odometer tampering was a massive problem in the 80s and 90s and saw sellers risk the safety of buyers by changing the display of how many kilometres a car has driven, but it appears to be on the rise once again.

A low odometer means a used car can sell for a higher price, but its new owner won’t be on the lookout for dangerous wear and tear – like used suspension or brakes.

A 7News journalist in Brisbane went undercover to find out first-hand how easy it is for sellers to commit the crime.

The reporter found they could wipe 160,000km from a 1997 Mercedes for just $150.

When they asked a mechanic how many kilometres they could wipe from the car, they responded: ‘Whatever numbers you want, I can put it in.’

Peter Dever from the Motor Trades Association described the problem as ‘frightening’ and an ‘absolute scourge’.

‘What you buy on Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree might not be all it seems,’ he said.

‘The last thing you want is to buy what you think is a low-kilometre car, only to have the gearbox drop out of it.’

In May, Queensland Police charged a 38-year-old man in Logan, west Brisbane, with 26 offences related to a ‘fraudulent second-hand vehicle syndicate’.

Police accused him of ‘winding back the odometers and on-selling the cars to unsuspecting people, through websites and social media platforms’.

He was charged with fraud and attempted fraud, forgery, driving unregistered and uninsured vehicles and driving a vehicle without a number plate.

In 2021-22, instances of odometer fraud in New South Wales (NSW) surged, quadrupling compared to previous years.

During this period, NSW Fair Trading took action by imposing fines amounting to $113,000 and issuing 103 penalty notices.

This stands in stark contrast to the mere 38 penalties that were issued in the preceding 2019-20 period.

NSW resident David (pictured) and his son realised the odometer on the 2008 Toyota Hilux they recently bought for $26,000 had been tampered with after using the new check

In one case, a seller manipulated the mileage of a Subaru XV, reducing it by a staggering 400,000 kilometres. 

The deceptive act allowed them to sell the vehicle for $32,000, which was $11,000 higher than its original market value.

In another alarming incident, a 2009 Toyota HiLux was resold for a whopping five times its initial sale price of $6,000, fetching a total of $30,980 for the seller. 

The exorbitant price was achieved through fraudulent odometer tampering, which reduced the displayed mileage by 280,000 kilometres.

NSW resident David and his son realised the odometer on the 2008 Toyota Hilux they bought for $26,000 had been tampered with after using the Service NSW check. 

The Hilux’s odometer showed it had travelled 188,000 kilometres in its lifetime.

However, when David ran its registration number through the Service NSW app he found it had been wound back by more than 250,000 kilometres.

The father said the discovery left his son, a first-time car buyer, devastated.

‘He’s a young guy, he works hard. He’s just an honest kid that’s been ripped off,’ he told Nine News.

‘I tried to contact [the seller]. I sent him messages saying, ‘Look, can we please sort this out?’

‘I gave him the opportunity to be a man about it because he’s obviously done the wrong thing and I haven’t heard back from him.’

NSW Minister for Roads John Graham said the free check will help buyers 'take some of the power back' from fraudsters. (Pictured: the Hilux David and his son bought)

NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Fair Trading Anoulack Chanthivong urged buyers to take extra care when looking at used cars online.

‘Most cases investigated involve sellers working through online platforms like Facebook Marketplace or Gumtree, usually using fake profiles and often through third parties,’ he said.

‘Buyers have to be careful, and this initiative will mean they have better access to good information that lets them make the best decisions.’


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