Shopping for a used car, especially when looking at privately owned vehicles, is a complex decision. Like selecting a pet or major appliance, it's a long term commitment.
You'll wonder why the previous owner is selling it. Is it mechanically OK or will it soon need expensive repairs? Can the seller provide maintenance and repair records? Have all recall and factory service advisories been taken care of? Has the odometer been turned back to misrepresent the mileage?
The latter question has been a concern among consumer groups, state and federal authorities as well as the news media. Used car shoppers can take little comfort to thinking odometers are tamperproof or that turning back an odometer ("clocking") is illegal.
Everyone of the 18 million people shopping for a used car every year should heed this caveat: don's let appearances deceive you. When you find what seems to be the ideal car for you, you may not bother to probe into its history. It's such a good deal, with low mileage and the right price, the seller seems honest…it just looks to good to be true
"Maybe it is," asserts Dick Morse, Chief of the Odometer Fraud Staff for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Clocking is a profitable scam. By investing about $80 to have the odometer rolled back the unscrupulous seller has increased the car's perceived market price by as much as half again its real value. Later the unsuspecting new owner may be struck with repairs that might never have been needed on a lower mileage car.
"Even though odometer tampering is a federal offense," says Morse, "it's difficult to trace because there is so much of it going on and so few personnel available to police. Further, vehicles with altered titles and odometers often are resold in another state, making documentation difficult. It's often part of an organized crime ring that can more vehicles from state to state."
It's seldom easy to detect signs of odometer tampering. The safest bet is to take the vehicle to a competent mechanic, one who has no interest in the sale of the vehicle, for a thorough evaluation.
"A comprehensive inspection by a qualified technician can disclose evidence of clocking that, for most consumers, could be virtually impossible to spot," concludes Morse. "It costs just a fraction of what it could save later."
For a free pamphlet listing key check points on a vehicle send a stamped, self addressed envelope to:
Car Care Council
42 Park Drive
Port Clinton, OH 43452.
The Car Care Council is "the most widely respected source of car care information in North America." Their mission is to provide information to the vehicle owners about the importance of preventive maintenance, needed repairs and enhancements while improving safety, fuel conservation, and air quality. Our goal is to protect the owner's investment.
The Council's staff does not answer technical questions. Please call the C.A.R. Show at 1-88-88-CAR-SHOW for repair and maintenance question..
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