Here’s how to avoid falling victim to mileage rollbacks when buying a used car

The used car pre-purchase inspections I offered customers years ago focused on identifying vehicles that the odometer was rolled back on. I became proficient at being able to date a vehicle by the small tell-tale signs of mileage tampering like fatigued suspension rubber bushings, pitted glass or worn rubber brake pedal pads. But for the last decade, the accessibility to digitalized vehicle history reports and inter-provincial record keeping slowed those who dared to tamper with odometers.

It was easier to get caught and therefore tampering mileage diminished significantly. Today, the unstable used-car market has depleted the inventory of desirable, low-mileage vehicles. This means that mileage rollbacks are becoming a thing again, not like it used to be, but more than there should be. Just like the technology that allows vehicles to be stolen easily, similar technology can see an unscrupulous individual easily reprogram the digital odometer.

Curbsider is the term used for those who skirt the law and buy and sell vehicles for profit without being a registered dealer. They pose as private individuals and usually sell from the backs of industrial units or shopping mall parking lots. They don’t register the vehicle in their name and there is no record of their ownership. It is during this period that a vehicle may magically lose significant mileage.

By the time a buyer has the car, it is too late because they will never find the curbsider who sold it to them. Looking at the vehicle’s ownership history only leads to some unsuspecting previous owner who knows nothing of the tampering.

Most large dealerships don’t dare tamper with an odometer and even most small dealerships probably couldn’t be bothered either. It’s too easy for them to get caught as they must register all vehicles in their company name. Vehicles are sometimes temporarily owned by multiple wholesalers while being passed through an auction, a curbsider and eventually returning to a consumer. These transfers through multiple owners make it easier to slip one through the cracks. When a retail or wholesale dealer purchases a vehicle, they are supposed to verify its mileage, by means of history reports, but sometimes things get missed. I have witnessed several times where a dealer unknowingly purchased and resold a mileage-altered vehicle. When the new owner was realized and complained to their provincial authorities, the dealers in question supplied documentation that they were also duped by a previous owner. Laws vary by province, but if you are the unfortunate owner of a mileage-altered vehicle, you may be in for quite a burden as you chase the actual culprits and a dealer who may only be partially financially responsible. This doesn’t occur often at the dealership level, but is more common when purchasing privately.

So how do you identify a curbsider? When you purchase a vehicle privately, verify that the name on the ownership and the person selling the vehicle are one and the same. Also confirm the license plates attached to the vehicle match front to back, and also as stated on the ownership. Always check the original online ad, looking for other vehicles being offered by the same person. Selling for a friend or leaving the country are also key phrases that should spark skepticism, or if the seller wants to meet anywhere else other than their private residence. Above all, search the history of the vehicle by your own means and get a proper pre-purchase inspection by a professional.


Your automotive questions answered

I own an older Chevrolet Camaro and a new Cadillac CT-4 sport with paddle shifters. My GM dealership personnel insist on joy riding my cars. I find this totally unacceptable; how can I bring this practice to an end. -John A.

I once had an upset customer who complained that one of my technicians had abused his vehicle while on a test drive with dash cam footage to prove it. When I confronted my young technician, he emphatically professed his innocence. Confused, I asked to see the dash cam footage that the owner was referring to. What I saw was a 25-year-old technician driving the customer’s car like he drove his own personal car. Not quite as abusive as the owner had claimed, but still more aggressive than I was comfortable with for one of my own employees in a customer’s car.

Ironically, I always offer a tongue-in-cheek comment when speaking to customers about their teenagers about to hit the roads. I jokingly indicated that I would know exactly when their children started driving. Their repair costs typically increase those first few years because tires and brakes only last a fraction of the previous sets. Everyone says their kid is the exception, but only a handful are.

Many young drivers, especially young male drivers, drive aggressively every moment they are behind the wheel. How do you bring this practice to an end? That’s a question I don’t think has a direct or easy answer.


I intend to drive my 2013 Audi A6 for some time. The car has 121,000 kilometers on it and is in excellent condition. The service manual says nothing about servicing the transmission and I am getting mixed signals about whether a transmission fluid and filter change would be advisable. What’s your advice? -RW

Like any of the vehicles that don’t specify an interval, it’s up to you to monitor and replace. Many manufacturers tout fluid-for-life, which means the life of the transmission, not the car. All manufacturers have their own idea of ​​how long their transmissions should last without any routine maintenance. If I owned your vehicle at its given mileage, I would change the transmission fluid regardless of what others might say. Fluid is cheap compared to the cost of replacing or rebuilding the transmission in your Audi.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail [email protected]placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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