Manipulated Mileage

Protecting Used-Car Buyers

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    In Germany, odometer fraud is estimated to cost between €6 and €7 billion in annual damages. However competing interests and tight privacy laws have meant that nobody can agree on a solution.

  • Facts


    • Digitalization is making tampering with mileage that much easier. Fraudsters can download an app from the Internet.
    • After Belgium instituted its Car-Pass system, where mileage histories are collected in a central database, the number of manipulated odometers fell from 60,000 to 1,239.
    • Up until now German auto dealers and potential data bank owners haven’t been able to find common ground on the matter, although one German state may soon pass new legislation.
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Digital duplicity: Computerized systems make it easier for fraudsters to tamper with mileage. Source: DPA

Even the police are sometimes surprised by how brazen the perpetrators can be. In internal documents obtained by Handelsblatt, they describe the case of a Mercedes E-Class sedan that was taken off the road in 2013. Overnight the swindlers reduced the 687,000 kilometers already traveled by the used car down to 88,000 kilometers. The fraud jacked up the value of the used car from around €1,000 to €17,100.

Tampering with odometers is both lucrative and illegal and attracts organized crime. It is difficult to attain reliable statistics as to how high the number of manipulated odometers actually is. This is mainly due to a large number of unreported cases. Nevertheless, various random samples present a picture that should give used car dealers cause to worry. In internal studies, a few insurance companies reckon that almost every third used car has an odometer that has been tampered with.

Lawmakers can seldom do something against this organized deception. At the beginning of 2011, a nationwide raid by the Munich police against odometer tampering made the headlines. But the special unit was disbanded in 2013. The German motorists’ association ADAC protested, but to no avail. Insurers estimate annual damages through tampering with odometers at between €6 and €7 billion in Germany alone.

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