Odometer Roll-Backs a Concern for Massachusetts Drivers
When purchasing a used car, the car’s mileage — as indicated on the odometer — may be the deciding factor whether or not to buy or keep shopping. Shoppers rely on the odometer to estimate the car’s total wear and it helps determine the price. All things being equal, a car with lower mileage demands a higher price, and a difference of a few thousand miles could adjust the price significantly. With most cars using digital odometers, many unsuspecting car buyers assume that the odometer can no longer be altered, or manually rolled back.
Surprisingly, that it is not the case and new electronic devices may make it easier than ever for dealerships to roll-back a car’s odometer. CARFAX estimates that’s nearly 200,000 cars each year have their odometers adjusted, and there are currently over 1 million cars on the road with rolled-back odometers. Even more troubling, CBS Boston has recently reported that this is happening at higher rate in Massachusetts. As many as 40,000 cars on the road in Massachusetts have potentially had their odometers rolled back.
Adjusting a car’s odometer is not only wrong, but it’s illegal under both federal and state law. Aside from criminal implications, Massachusetts law protects car buyers and provides that anyone who adjusts or alters a car’s mileage shall be liable in a civil action of tort or contract, pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, chapter 266, section 141. That law states:
Whoever advertises for sale, sells, uses, installs or has installed any device which causes an odometer to register any mileage other than the true mileage driven, or whoever resets, or alters the odometer of any motor vehicle with the intent to change the number of miles indicated thereon, or whoever, with the intent to defraud, operates a motor vehicle on any street or highway knowing that the odometer of such vehicle is disconnected to nonfunctional, shall be liable in a civil action of tort or contract in an amount equal to the sum of three times the amount of actual damages sustained or one thousand five hundred dollars, whichever is the greater, plus the costs of the action together with reasonable attorney fees as determined by the court.
The statute specifically provides that a consumer can recover any damages they incur multiplied by three, or $1,500, whichever is greater. A violation is also an unfair practice under our consumer protection statute, called Chapter 93A, and entitles consumers to recover costs and attorney’s fees.
If you’re in the market for a used car be sure to remain vigilant. Simply checking an independent vehicle history report, such as from CARFAX, may identify any potential tampering. A trained mechanic can also help identify any potential problems prior to your purchase. If you do find any evidence of tampering after your purchase, be sure to contact a local consumer protection attorney to protect your rights.