Is there a valid reason to "wind back" a car's odometer?

I saw a link to a page talking about how to wind back both physical and electronic odmeters in cars, and it had a paper thin veneer statement that this should not be used fraudulently. You see the same messages on places like torrents and emulation sites but in those cases there is a valid reason for using them even if it doesn’t actually apply to 99% of users. (P2P is a good way of distributing large files, emulation of a game you genuinely own on a PC can make it funner to play)

I don’t see a valid reason for clock wind-back though except fraudulent purposes.

Only one I can think of is if you put a used replacement in your car that came from one with a higher mileage.

In fact, of course, it’s just words trying to say that they aren’t helping crooks to ‘clock’ cars.

A couple of decades ago my dad had a car with a mechanical odometer that he had restored to pristine condition. It had nearly 100,000 miles on it, so he spun it back to something far less. His plan was that if/when he got around to selling it, he would explicitly inform the buyer that the odometer did not reflect the actual vehicle miles, and that he wanted the buyer to evaluate the car on its apparent condition, not on what the odometer did/didn’t say.

Only if you are replacing the gauge cluster for a legitimate reason (i.e. Yours is broken) and the replacement shows a higher mileage.

According to federal law, if you modify your odometer reading, you’re supposed to affix a decal to the doorframe of the car stating the nature of the modifications done to your car, the date, and the previous mileage reading. And disclose this information at the time of sale.

Some guys like to reset their odometer when the replace or rebuild the engine (“It’s like a brand new car because I put a new set of piston rings and valve guides in the engine!”). You’re still legally required to state the mileage when this reset was done, so if everything is above board, you (the buyer) should still know the total mileage. Despite what the shade tree mechanic believes about the life giving powers of his rebuilds, the total mileage should be your main consideration.

The only time most collectors are semi-comfortable with it is when a frame-off restoration is done with new old stock parts, and no bolt left untouched.

If you took your dad’s rare 1961 Ferrari GT out for the day and the parking lot attendant racks up a bunch of miles taking it for a joyride then it’s perfectly valid to jack up the rear of the car and let it run in reverse to wind back the odometer. However if your father is such an asshole that you have to go through all that trouble you might as well kick the car off the jack and let it shoot backwards out through the back of the garage and crash down a hill. Or so I’ve heard.

If your dad wasn’t disclosing the actual mileage at the time of sale, that’s pretty classic odometer fraud. Just because he believed the condition was better than the reading doesn’t change it. As a buyer I would run, not walk, from that car. No offense intended :slight_smile:

I wouldn’t have guessed it was fraud if he informs the buyer that the odometer didn’t reflect actual mileage. However, according to the site you linked to, “Resetting or altering odometer with intent to change mileage” is a violation, so whaddya know - my dad’s a fraudster.

As it happens, he’s getting ready to sell the car in the near future. At this point, none of us has any idea what the actual mileage is. And as that same website says, the seller may legitimately inform the buyer that the mileage is unknown. So in my dad’s case, the fraud (the actual rolling back of the odometer) took place decades ago (my guess is that the statute of limitations has long since expired), and the sale (if/when it happens) will be a non-fraudulent transaction. Whew.

Your dad may be honest as the day is long…but the guy he is selling it to can now resell it as a car with much less mileage than it actually has. And while the rolling of the odometer may of taken place in the distant past, the selling of said vehicle with a known rolled-back odometer would be much more recent.

Suppose you have a “heavily modified” car…hot rod, ground-up restoration, etc…and you end up with a vehicle that has less than 50% original content, especially regarding the frame and drivetrain, then I could see.

When the new owner turns around to sell the car, he will be legally obligated to tell his buyer that the mileage is unknown (since he himself will have been informed by my dad that the mileage is unknown).

Again, according to the information at Whiskey Dicken’s link, the present-day sale should be completely legal and fraud-free if the buyer is explicitly informed by my dad that the mileage of the vehicle is unknown (a true statement).

No, the fraud is profitting from the action, not the action itself. If he properly informs the buyer, there’s no fraud. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter if he rolled it back 75 years ago–it’s fraud today.

I’m not sure that “I forgot to write down the original odometer reading before I rolled it back” equals “unknown odometer reading”.

I think if Machine Elf’s father says he doesn’t know the actual mileage at time of sale, or informs the purchaser that he did roll it back, there’s no fraud occurring outside of a technical sense that nobody should care about. We’re talking about private used car sales and I don’t have any reason to think the senior Mr. Elf is going to rip anybody off.

My very first car was a VW Beetle and I disconnected the odometer/speedometer cable for some reason right after getting my yearly state inspection. The next year I reconnected the cable and took it for inspection. The mechanic gave me some shit (you’ve only driven seventeen miles in the last year?!). I reconnected it.

“unknown odometer reading” would be a true statement at this point, since we really don’t know what the mileage is.

I could see the case that if you knowingly/unknowingly rode on tires that had an outside diameter smaller than designed, it would over-report the actual number of miles traveled, and then perhaps it could provide a reasonable argument for winding back the miles.

Simply “resetting or altering odometer with intent to change mileage” is enough to go afoul of the law. Whether Machine Elf’s dad reports the alteration to the future buyer doesn’t change that the odometer was illegally modified.

Also required to be legal, a decal would have to been affixed to the doorjamb of the car at the time of modification showing the current mileage when the odometer was changed (among other pieces of information on the decal).

Some states allow for penalties and recovery of damages in addition to what the federal law applies.

I seriously doubt this, or any other scenario, would make changing or modifying the odometer in any way and still not declaring that it was **NOT **the original mileage legal, even if you reset it to exactly the right mileage, down to the tenths. Odometers are either original or they are not. For instance, in NY State automobile titles have a spot where you have to write the actual mileage when you sell it. There are also two check boxes below this, saying:
[li]The odometer reading is in excess of 100,000 miles[/li][li]The odometer reading is not the actual mileage[/li][/ol]
The first one is a legacy for high-mileage older cars who’s odometers only went to 99,999.9 miles. But the second one is the only other option, and legally it means exactly that. If checked the odometer is no longer accurate. Obviously an honest seller will give the buyer a good estimate if possible, but there is no consumer ‘form’ that I know of for officially re-certifying any non-original, modified, or otherwise inaccurate odometer. The ‘door jam sticker’ you’re supposed to affix stating the mileage before odometer replacement would still not get entered onto a NY State title, only the second box would be checked stating that the odometer reading is not the actual mileage. Google has pictures of various ‘odometer replacement stickers’, looks like they are only for licensed new or used car dealers, not private owners. Also looks like they vary a lot by state.

It’s like how an automobile can only ever be legally sold as ‘new’ once, regardless if you don’t drive it at all and want to sell it an hour after buying it…

Don’t you have some sort of registration system in the US to cross check this sort of thing?

Here in New Zealand every road-going vehicle is required to get an annual or six-monthly (depending on vehicle age) warrant of fitness check, part of which involves the inspector entering the current odometer reading into a central database. Which allows anyone to look up any vehicle and get a report like this, which includes a chart showing the odometer readings over time. Any winding back of the odometer should be obvious.