Has Odometer Fraud Seen Its Last Days?

Did you know odometer fraud is still rampant in used car sales and a new federal law not only combats this, but has opened the final frontier for states to take vehicle purchasing and registration digital?

It’s true. The recently passed Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (otherwise known as the FAST Act) includes a provision to replace paper-and-ink signatures for odometer readings with electronic ones.

But don’t get excited just yet. This law, which was signed by President Obama in December 2015, only gives states the green light to drive their own electronic odometer (or eOdometer) disclosure programs. The directive authorizes the use of digital methods for readings and notices, however, the processes put in place must provide robust security measures to ensure accurate authentication.

Previous federal edict required a slow, inefficient, handwritten procedure for odometer disclosures. Now, it will be up to each state to enact new laws – which have the potential to usher in a modern era of entirely paperless practices when it comes to vehicle documentation – including odometer readings.

Unfortunately, odometer fraud remains a big problem. Older cars with analog mileage readers can’t be easily rolled back, but it happens more often than consumers think. Used car expert Steven Lang, who writes for Yahoo! Autos and the Chicago Tribune, says new cars with digital odometers are especially vulnerable. “You can easily buy software to hack a digital odometer for a grand or so,” he says.

Lang also buys and sells used cars. He says he’s lucky because his home state of Georgia requires a “track record” of odometer readings for such things as emissions testing and registration renewals. Using the latest handwritten readings, he can discover if there’s been odometer tampering before he buys a used car.

However, not all states require such detailed analyses and, he adds, most exempt any vehicle that’s more than 10 years old from disclosing mileage totals.

So what does Lang think of the new FAST Act provisions when it comes to eOdometer disclosures? “I think it’s a fine idea unless there’s any increased cost to be passed onto citizens,” he says.

This last hurdle to the federal government’s signing off on eOdometer readings has paved the way for completely paperless automotive sales, including registration, titling, licensing and other services. Now, it’s up to each state to take the mountains of paperwork it often requires to sell, buy or register a vehicle into the digital age. The FAST Act may just be the impetus for a new era in quicker, more efficient and streamlined odometer disclosures and used auto sales.