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ODOMETER tampering – especially by private vehicle sellers – is hitting dealers in record numbers with 44 per cent of Victorian dealerships now reporting as victims of this crime.

The issue has led the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC) to send a bulletin to its 1620 dealer members warning of the greater incidence of the crime as the used-car market soars.

It said odometer fraud was being carried out by members of the public both selling cars to other private motorists or selling them to dealers.

The problem is that when the fraud is revealed dealers and private-to-private buyers are “doing money hand over fist”.

A new service by the NSW government, launched last week, where car buyers can check the odometers of cars they are buying, exposed an incident in which a seller shaved 400,000km off a Subaru XV and sold it for $32,000, some $11,000 above its correct value. 

The new information for NSW buyers comes after a four-fold spike in odometer tampering over 2021 and 2022. NSW authorities issued $113,000 in fines and 103 penalty notices in the past two years, which represented a dramatic jump from 38 total penalties in 2019 and 2020.

NSW buyers will now have access to the previous three annual odometer readings of vehicles registered in NSW, giving them a better chance to identify any discrepancies and avoid unscrupulous sellers.

The VACC is currently negotiating with VicRoads to set up a similar service in Victoria to protect its LMCT members and private-to-private sellers from fraud.

Michael McKenna

The VACC said that its members have been victims of many unscrupulous people, with the issue reaching greater levels over the past two years as the used car industry has been enjoying heightened trading conditions. 

“However, the private-to-private market and unlicensed industry are largely held unaccountable for their actions in participating in winding back odometers,” it said.

“Dealers must now be alert to and take action about such behaviour.”

The VACC said it had started lobbying the Victorian government, its regulators and law enforcement agencies to use the legislative instruments (and associated punitive measures) they already have available under the ‘Motor Car Traders Act 1986 (Vic)’, ‘Duties Act 2000 (Vic)’ and the ‘Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)’ to intervene in the private-to-private and unlicensed market and identify and prosecute perpetrators of this crime.

The VACC has also made available guidance material to dealers that gives specific directions on what process to take when confronted with a vehicle traded with a wound-back odometer, all aimed at protecting the dealer, the community and the consumer.

The guidance, which focuses on all prescribed areas where a dealer must record an odometer reading, has been created with the assistance of members of VACC’s LMCT Divisions and survey data recorded from a VACC survey in March 2023.

“Over recent days many members have called VACC to advise of the NSW government decision to provide purchasers of vehicles in NSW with free access to vehicle odometer readings from June 19, 2023,” said VACC industry policy advisor Michael McKenna.

“VACC congratulates NSW for the introduction of such an initiative. VACC has long pushed for a similar or same introduction for the access to historical odometer data for Victorian consumers and dealers.”

Mr McKenna said that the VACC “believes it to be prudent to manage member expectations as to the likelihood of this same type of system being introduced to Victoria under a ‘no charge’ basis.

“VACC has been in dialogue with the VicRoads joint venture commercial team seeking the delivery of odometer data as well as vehicle transfer and roadworthy certificate history extracted from the VicRoads registration and licensing system for Victorians,” he said.

“This is progressing well, however, provision of such data is likely to be monetised by VicRoads.

“VACC continues to push for more proficient and sensible reform on behalf of Victorian dealers,” he said. VicRoads was recently partially privatised by the Victorian government for $7.9 billion.

Meanwhile Nine News is reporting that the first days of access to the NSW government website revealed a first-car buyer has found the second-hand ute he bought had its odometer wound back by more than 250,000km.  

He bought a 2008 Toyota Hilux from a private seller in St Clair for $26,000. The Hilux’s odometer indicated it had done around 188,000km but the NSW government website said it has actually done around 438,000km.

GoAutoNews Premium has also been contacted by some private buyers who have fallen foul of private sellers committing odometer fraud.

We have been told of “Bill” – a 45 year old Victorian civil engineer:

  • Purchased Subaru Outback 2010 for $13,000 from private seller with odometer at 102,000km after seeing ad on Facebook Marketplace
  • Turns out the odometer had been rolled back by 178,000km from 280,000km
  • Coincidentally Bill had been in contact with Rob about buying Rob’s car (see below) which had been bought from the same seller
  • Rob warned Bill there was something dodgy about the private seller of his Outback
  • When they compared notes and talked to the seller they were able to get their money back. Bill got $13,000 paid for the returned Outback

“Rob” – a 23 year-old Victorian fourth-year university student studying teaching, works as a disability support worker and needed a reliable car after his car was written off:

  • Purchased Subaru Outback 2008 for $10,000 with odometer at 114,500km after seeing ad on Facebook Marketplace 
  • Became suspicious when car drove and felt ‘sluggish’
  • Checked log book and found service-stamped pages 40,000km to 250,000km had been ripped out. Paid $18 to Carify. Instead of 114,500km, the car had 253,000km last reported in January 2023
  • He and Bill challenged the seller and $9,000 was returned on 16 June, 2023

Unfortunately, the seller then again listed the Subaru Outback 2008 online the next day June 17, 2023 creating a third Victorian victim who bought the car on June 18, 2023 for $9,400 still with the incorrect odometer reading of 120,000km, not the correct 253,000km.

This unlucky buyer is an 18 year-old chef’s apprentice who is in year 12 at school. The students money has not been returned.

Victoria Police are investigating the sales of these cars.

Back-of-the-envelope footnote: If all 2100 Victorian LMCTs are getting two odometer tampering incidents a year and the average cost of restitution for the higher than indicated distance travelled is about $10,000, we are looking at a cost to dealers of more than $40 million a year – just for Victoria dealers alone – not counting the cost to the public in dodgy private-to-private sales.

Social media footnote: TikTok user @bosnjakborn posted a series of videos on TikTok, using the NSW Services website, entering in cars for sale online. 

@bosnjakborn’s videos showed a 2003 Holden Rodeo** selling for $7,000 with 182,721km, had a reading in 2021 of 293,536km (screenshot from the NSW Services website), a rollback of 110,815km. 

A 2007 Nissan Navara** selling for $7000 with 175,000km, had a reading in 2020 of 323,294km (screenshot from the NSW Services website), a rollback of 148,294km. 

A 2008 Volkswagen Golf** selling for $11,800 with 170,000km, had a reading in 2020 of 190,422km (screenshot from the NSW Services website), a rollback of 20,422km. 

** Please note the sellers displayed on TikTok may not be aware the odometer was rolled back, and may have been duped themselves.

*** Footnote: ​GoAutoNews Premium has been told that Victoria Police contacted the seller of the Subaru Outback 2008 and the money has been returned to the 18 year old buyer (chef’s apprentice).

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