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How to Avoid Odometer Fraud with Salvage Cars for Sale

By Mike Richards Updated: 05/22/2019 Posted: 06/28/2017

Salvage cars for sale at auto dealer auctions can be an excellent way to get a cheap vehicle, either to use or to resell. However, one common trick seen by old owners or unscrupulous sellers is to turn back the odometer so that the buyer has no real idea of what kind of wear is on the vehicle. This type of scam is so common that vehicle history reports like CarFax even started collecting odometer information so that new owners could compare.

Checking the Odometer

When you first spot a salvage car for sale that you like, inspect the odometer. Under normal circumstances, with an average commute, a car should gain about 12,000 miles per year. If the number seems very low for how long the car has been in operation, chances are there’s been a scam somewhere. Also, look for an asterisk mark. Some, though not all, models display a tiny asterisk on the odometer if someone has tampered with it.

Check the Sticker

The inspection sticker on the windshield is required to list the odometer reading from the most recent inspection. If you notice a lower number, or that the number seems too close to the most recent inspection that was nearly a year ago, on the odometer now, you probably have a scam on your hands.

Get the History Report

Car history reports like CarFax or AutoCheck can also help you understand the mileage that a car should have. Granted, it’s not the most accurate history in the world since not everything is always reported, but it does portray everything that the system can find, which may help you weed out issues right now.

Look at the Tires

Tires are a great indication of how far a car has traveled recently. If the odometer suggests there hasn’t been much travel, but the tires are bald, then it could ben an indication of tampering with the odometer. Granted, the seller could have changed tires, but that’s a big expense for something you’ll be selling soon.

Check out the Interior

Just like tires, interiors can reveal how much history a car has. If the interior is respectable, but full of “life” (AKA burns, stained carpeting, wear and tear), then it should line up with a higher odometer reading. If it seems very worn, but the odometer is set to a smaller number, that’s another indication that something is up.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that everything that you inspect should line up with your mental picture of what the odometer says. If it says there are only 40,000 miles on a car, you should be seeing a nearly pristine vehicle with very little wear and tear.

Watch out for cars that just seem too worn in to have fewer miles and you’ll be able to avoid one of the biggest pitfalls in auctions when you are shopping for salvage cars for sale.

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