Winding back a car's odometer with an electric drill might be an image from the past, but car ‘clocking’ is rife as ever and is actually on the rise in the UK. Wisely SOLD explore the reasons behind it and how to spot the tell-tale signs of a clocked car.
Mileages can be wound back for many reasons and in almost every case there is a financial driver behind it. Whether its someone buying a 120,000 mile car and then presenting it for sale with 60,000 miles or perhaps someone about to get stung with thousands of pounds of excess mileage charges at the end of a lease, the intention is almost always to deceive.
It is a criminal offence for any seller (private or trade) to knowingly misrepresent the mileage of a car, but the actual act of ‘mileage correction’ is a grey area and plenty of mileage adjustment companies are operating lawfully through a loophole in the law, which is due to be closed down by EU regulation in early 2018.
Until then, here are the 3 ways you can spot and avoid buying a clocked car:
1) Online MOT Record
One of the first things you should do when considering the purchase of a car over 3 years old, is to enter its number plate into the DVLA’s own enquiry website, here. This shows a public record of all the MOT’s which have taken place since 2005 and can even help highlight some on going ‘advisory’ issues a car might have.
Go through the results, and look carefully for any mileage discrepancies. The mileages should increase consistently, year on year, and any reductions (or other anomalies) should ring alarm bells that a car may have been clocked.
Remember, whilst the seller might be making a seemingly valid case for why one year a car was barely used, despite being used routinely in the years before/after, it might appear concerning to potential buyers when you come to sell.
A car with full service history should be supplied with a service booklet rich with dealer stamps and service records. Don’t assume these are genuine, as Wisely SOLD have seen plenty of examples where stamps have been forged, or even relate to fictional dealerships! It’s always worth calling as many of the dealerships shown as possible and politely ask them to check their records. Whilst they won’t be able to disclose particular information due to the Data Protection Act, they should be able to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ confirmation whether a service (and mileage) record you give them did in fact take place.
Tip: Certain manufacturers such as BMW actually provide a premium-rate number which you can call to check any centrally held mileage and service records. These numbers are expensive, typically £1-2 per minute, but might be the most valuable phone call you ever make!
3) Car Condition
A car itself can offer you clues to its past. Whilst its impossible to list them all, here are some examples of what to look out for:
- The clutch on a regular manual car under 3 years old and under 30,000 miles shouldn’t judder or feel worn. If it does, it could be because it has in fact done more than 30,000 miles.
- A car being sold with low mileage due to ‘local use only’ shouldn’t have many (if any) stone chips to the front. These are typically associated with high mileage cars which have spent most of their life on the motorway. Some clockers will go one step further by respraying the front of a car in order to hide signs of high mileage use. In these cases though, the headlights rarely get changed and are just as suseptible to stone chipping from motorway use, so inspect those for adverse stone chipping too.
- Check the condition of the interior - the steering wheel, gear lever, windscreen and tyres can all offer clues of regular high usage.
- If a car has navigation, try to take a quick look at the ‘last destinations’ section. A ‘school run’ car should only have the occasional out of town location in its sat nav history. A low mileage car with a long list of cross county travels might have a story to tell.
Criminals will go to extreme lengths to ensure clocking isn’t spotted, and the above pointers only scratch the surface of how to spot a car with a hidden past. If anything doesn’t feel right, the best thing to do is to walk away and keep searching.
The only way to 100% ensure that a car hasn’t been clocked is by buying brand new or by buying from a reputable dealership who will guarantee (or ‘indemnify’) the mileage.
If buying privately, consider using Wisely SOLD's £199 wiseENACT service to ensure every precaution is made to avoid buying a clocked car.