Odometers

Reporter: Jackie Quist

Dennis Fletcher "I would suggest there was probably a ring operating and it was probably fairly well organised

Ray Russell "I didn't think it happened anymore, especially with electronic speedos, but apparently there's ways around them too

Jackie reports "It's the greatest magic trick of them all; a disappearing act like no other. Crooks, gangs and con artists are, literally, winding back the clock, turning back time on thousands of vehicles and with every kilometer they wipe off, you're forced to pay more as re-sale prices go up and up and up."

Dennis Fletcher "Shortly after we purchased the car first thing was, front indicators didn't work but then the breaks started squealing but a few weeks later the automatics started playing up."

Jackie "Retiree, Dennis Fletcher, was devastated to discover the Ford Falcon he bought with 90,000 kilometers on the clock had, in reality, travelled nearly 200,000 kilometers."

Dennis Fletcher "And I estimate, quite frankly, it could have been up to 300,000 kilometers it actually had on it."

Jackie "Buying privately Dennis paid more than $12,000 for the car potentially twice what it was worth. He was caught in one of the nation's biggest ever wind back rackets. Convicted unlicensed dealer, Michael Kingston, sold 180 cars worth $2.6 million from various front yards around Melbourne. Winding back odometers and fraudulently filling in log books to boost the sale price."

Dennis "Problem was you can buy any log book as an after market item so he'd buy the car, then he'd go down to a Ford dealership or it could be a Mazda dealership, buy an aftermarket log book and from day one he'd falsify all the records."

Jackie "Despite the size of the deception, 75 year old Kingston, was recently fined just $20,000 and given a two month suspended sentence. Dennis was awarded a measley $1000 compensation."

Dennis "Ok I got stiffed on a car, it's probably happening every day of the week, it's still going on today, nothing's changed, they just get more sophisticated."

Jackie "Unfortunately, Dennis is spot on; going backwards is the way forward for a growing breed of greedy conmen. Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading departments in every state are dealing with a spike in odometer tampering complaints."

Geoff Browne "It is the most serious offence under the Motor Car Traders Act with substantial penalties, so we do take it very seriously."

Jackie "Chief of Consumer Affairs Victoria, Geoff Browne."

"We have a group of inspectors who spend a lot of their time checking motor car traders for compliance and scanning online sales sites for unlicensed traders" Says Geoff

Ray Russell "When Consumer Affairs contacted us and asked us about the mileage on it, and they got back to us later on and said it had been wound back about 80 odd thousand"

Jackie "This 2001 Toyota Hilux, Ray Russell, bought with nearly 170,000 kilometers on the clock, had actually done 250,000 kilometers."

Ray Russell "We had no idea at that stage at all, it was presented clean and so forth, no idea at all."

Jackie "In April, The Melbourne Auto Group was fined $45,000 for winding back Ray's odometer, and those in three other Toyota's."

Geoff Browne "We've had a number of instances were the odometer wind back has been, or one instance, where it has been 300,000 kilometers which is a huge impact on the price."

Jackie "Hi-tech crooks use lap tops to hack into a car's electronics system, wiping off years of driving. Older odometers can be wound back manually, in some cars, dash boards are replaced completely. And whether you buy from private sellers, auction houses, or used car yards, you're never entirely safe as this case proves."

Jackie continues "Adelaide salesman, Ben Buttigieg, sold this 2002 Mitsubishi Magna to Katherine and Christian Reynolds with 150,000 kilometers on the clock. But we soon discovered it had done 284,000 kilometers, enough to travel 7 times around the world.

By tampering with the digital odometer, Buttigieg, erased 134,000 kilometers and pocketed $7000 for the sale approximately $2500 more than the car was worth."

Katherine and Christian "He's dishonest, he's happy to do illegal dealing with his cars and let poor consumers like ourselves and other people take those cars."

Jackie "Our investigations reveal buyers are being taken for a ride at alarming rates. In the last three years, 60 consumer complaints lead to 20 convictions for odometer tampering in New South Wales. In Victoria there have been 12 prosecutions over the last four years, while 11 private sellers have been prosecuted for misrepresenting odometer readings in Queensland since 2007."

Dennis Fletcher "It just makes it hard for anyone trying to buy a vehicle privately."

Jackie "Latest figures suggest, if you buy a used car from an unlicensed motor dealer, there is a one in ten chance the odometer will be wound back or replaced with a fake. Checking paperwork and contacting previous owners may be time consuming, but it could save you a fortune. And while it's by no means a fail safe, buying from a licensed dealer will give you legal recourse should it all go wrong."

Our investigation team will continue to monitor the online trading sites, we follow up every complaint we receive, and we encourage consumers to purchase through licensed motor car traders to get those added consumer protections