Car clocking up 400% in downturn

Car mileage 'clocking' is as big a problem as ever.

Can you believe it's been 19 years since this clip first aired on Top Gear, and despite all the advances that have been made in modern motor cars 'clocking' is as big a problem as ever?

Forward to 2009

At Motorcheck we've been helping buyers avoid clocked vehicles for over three years, and were thrilled when the production team behind 'Buyer Beware' (RTE1's consumer watchdog) approached us to appear on a forthcoming show. The show exposes the rising trend of 'car clocking', and MotorCheck was asked to take part in the programme.

When we started analysing the data even we were amazed at the increase in clocking over the past 6 months, and the lengths some sellers will go to in an effort to squeeze a few more euros out of a potential buyer. Take a look at the graph below. It shows the increase in incidents of clocking that MotorCheck has identified since March of this year.

The only sure fire way to combat clocking is to build a reliable database that takes regular odometer readings from independent sources. We started this three years ago with the Irish National Mileage Register (INMR) and have over 1.2 million audited records now on file, but there's plenty more to be done. We're in the process of lobbying the Department of Transport for access to the NCT mileage database. This would add another 6 - 8 million readings, but cars under four years would still be at risk. Our fleet partners continue to lend their support, and we're in discussions with a number of private sources that can also help. But there are many steps you can take to protect yourself against clocking.

What exactly is 'clocking'?

'Clocking' is the term used to describe the action of manipulating the odometer reading on a second hand car in an effort to misrepresent it's past history. The odometer is the instrument that records a vehicles mileage, and clocking involves the intentional understatement of a vehicle's mileage.

Is it illegal?

The physical action of clocking a car is not in itself illegal. However under the Consumer Protection Act 2007 misleading commercial practices are considered to be an offence. This means that any business knowingly selling or offering for sale a used motor vehicles with altered or reduced odometer readings is breaking the law. Unfortunately the Consumer Protection Act does not apply to transactions between private individuals which leaves you unprotected if you buy a clocked car from a private seller.

How can clocking be prevented?

The best way to stamp out clocking is to maintain an accurate database of odometer readings for all motor vehicles. MotorCheck introduced the Irish National Mileage Register (INMR), and continues to add mileage readings to it from reliable sources on a daily basis.

How can I avoid buying a clocked car?

  1. Ensure that the vehicle has a fully documented service history. Phone the garage/s that stamped the book and verify the odometer recorded at the time the work was carried out.
  2. Ask for previous NCT records if available from the owner. The mileage reading taken at the test should be evident on the results.
  3. If the vehicle doesn't have a service history look around the interior. You'd be surprised at what you might find. Some service garages put stickers on the inside top right of the windscreen to indicate - "next service due at" - look for these stickers and call the garage detailed. If you find evidence that a sticker was previously there and has since been removed - be cautious!
  4. Check the badge in the rear windscreen for a dealer logo or sometimes you'll find out who has worked on the car by looking a the rear number plate. A lot of garages put 'Number plate surrounds' on the actual number plate to advertise their business. Any clues as to who's been maintaining the car are invaluable and need to be confirmed.
  5. High mileage generally leaves a number of physical indicators. Look for wear on the gear stick and steering wheel. Lower mileage cars (>50k) should have very little wear. On higher mileage vehicles you would expect to see a smoothing/shining effect on the plastic or leather due to usage.  If the clock is the old style cylindrical shaped dials (Non-digital), make sure all of the numbers line up in a straight horizontal line. With clocked vehicles sometimes these dials go slightly off centre. For digital clocks a diagnostic check of the vehicle engine control unit (ECU) could indicate if the mileage has been reprogrammed (this is part of the Motorcheck pre-purchase inspection).
  6. Look for excessive wear on the carpets, mats and pedals. If there are new carpet mats look under the mats for wear on the original carpet. Under the bonnet - look for a "greasy" or "creamy like" substance under the water cap (this is the cover on the radiator / expansion bottle) could indicate that the head gasket is failing. This would be common on cars with high mileage.

Remember it's up to the car to prove that the mileage is correct. Don't just accept it at face value.

What should I do if I've bought a clocked car?

It really depends on what you want to achieve. Do you simply want your money back or would you prefer to see a legal prosecution made - maybe both?? If you purchased the car from a dealer (and it's still in business) there are a number of options open to you. The first step would be to gather all your evidence and write to the dealer in question outlining your complaint with copies of the proof enclosed. Ask for a full refund of the purchase price. If you don't get a favourable response make contact with the National Consumer Agency. They have an experienced department that will investigate all complaints and take action where warranted.

If you've purchased the car privately you could go down the expensive route of civil litigation, but you'll probably find that in the long run this will cost more than the car is worth. Prevention is always better than cure, and all reports notify users known odometer discrepancies. Order your report today, including previous odometer readings - simply enter your reg below and hit enter:

You can also find out more on our car clocking page.

RTE's Buyer Beware programme airs on Wednesday the 18th November at 8:30pm on RTE1.. Images taken from the show are copyright © RTE.

John Murray - December 12, 2009 at 6:22 pm
Hi Is there any way of telling if a ford focus with a digital clock has been clocked as i am looking to buy a good second hand 1 in january.
Shane Teskey - December 12, 2009 at 8:36 pm
Hi John, the first thing you could do is compare the current odometer reading with Motorcheck's Irish National Mileage Register. If the car has been clocked and we have a higher reading on file you'll know about it instantly. The second option is to have one of our Motorcheck test centres run a diagnostic check on the cars ECU. If the digital reading was modified in the ECU we should be able to detect it. Thanks for your comment.
John Murray - December 13, 2009 at 1:51 am
Hi Shane Thanks for your help,its great to know that even the digital clocks can be checked.
Tony - February 01, 2010 at 12:43 am
I don't know how you guys managed to figure out that U.K. cars are a big risk, considering the fact that at least 'ringers' are independently noted to be easier to spot with U.K. cars thanks to the data available on U.K. cars, which is not available on Irish ones. I take it that this is a sop to the Irish motor trade, who dislike U.K. imports ( which compete with their vast quantities of clocked cars )
Shane Teskey - February 01, 2010 at 4:08 pm
Hi Tony, No bias here against UK Cars! I agree with you - there is a great deal more data available on the UK registered vehicle than the Irish one, in fact we report on thousands of UK cars every year. The problem is that car history check's are not routinely performed in Ireland so a car that may have a colourful history in the UK could escape unnoticed in Ireland. That's why some unscrupulous sellers are able to get away with selling dodgy UK cars here in Ireland.
Sean - February 15, 2010 at 11:59 am
UK 09 passat car has 15500 miles - that sounds legit? Do you think any of the main VW dealers risk selling a clocked car - Issac Agnew, Donnellys group , TJ Hamilton all in NI ? I dont think so , they do their own checking?
Shane Teskey - February 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm
Hi Sean, Most of the main dealers will be able to verify the mileage against the cars ECU. Of course it is possible for a maid dealer to be caught out too. That's why checking the service history and contacting the previous owner if possible is always a good idea.
phil - March 14, 2010 at 12:29 pm
Hi Shane , How can you check if a UK import has been clocked? The bmw i'm looking at has an irish reg on it at the moment plus depite having 85k on the clock the service history only goes as far as 55k with BMW dealers and then stops . A bit of a worry if you ask me. Thank in advance. Phil
Shane Teskey - March 15, 2010 at 7:11 pm
Hi Phil, Have you tried running Motorcheck report on it? OUr national mileage register could well have some data on it that will be of use. Just enter the Irish registration and we'll automatically find the UK reg and perform a search on our UK databases as well.
Replayette - March 22, 2010 at 3:35 pm
Hi, I unfortunately purchased a car through a dealer, which I later found out through trading standards contacting me had been 'clocked' by some 60,000 miles. Thankfully the trader in question was prosecuted. I am now in a position where I would like to sell the car on. Do I legally have to declare the true mileage (which I don't really know) only a estimate, as I have no documents in support of this?
Shane Teskey - March 23, 2010 at 10:01 pm
Hi there, I'm surprised that you didn't return the car to the dealer and sue for compensation! Car clocking continues to be a series problem in Ireland and the UK. The office of fair trading issued a report recently and indicated that they think it's could be costing UK buyers as much as 580 Million Pounds a year! Unfortunately it looks like you're one of the unlucky ones. If you can't get any satisfaction from the dealer who sold you the car I would encourage you to be as honest as possible with any potential buyer. Explain that you're not sure what the correct mileage is on the car and advise them that they purchase it on the basis that it's mechanically sound and not to make any assumptions from the odometer reading. That way you can't be held liable for any future problems that the car may have. Give yourself a pat on the back for being honest your car. Too many people would take a chance and sell it on 'as is' which only perpetuates the problem. If you're being another car in the UK or Ireland drop me a line with the registration number. I'd be happy to give you a couple of free motorcheck reports as a small reward.
Replayette - March 26, 2010 at 11:48 am
Thanks Shane, Was stuck with car, but did manage to get some compensation, which I am still waiting for full payment of 4 years on!!! I was totally fooled, the guy looked honest and produced (albeit fake) a service history book, and I thought I knew what to look out for, my partner was fooled aswell. Being an honest person, I feel its only right to admit the cars history. Never mind, learnt my lesson!!! I am currently thinking of buying.. FE02 SYU. Any comments on the car's performance etc; greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time.....
Shane Teskey - March 26, 2010 at 1:50 pm
Hiya, I've run a report for you on the registration number and sent it directly to your email address. Hopefully this one will work out okay for you. Shane.
charlotte mcgowan - April 10, 2010 at 10:57 am
Have recently part exchanged 2 ford focus for a diesel focus from a major ford dealer. The advert showed 35,000 miles on the clock on which i paid a deposit. The car arrived with an MOT cert saying 45,000 miles on clock and service book handwritten with 35,000. Within 6 miles of taking car home the 'cluster' broke. When it was replaced the service book was stamped with 53,000 miles crossed out and 45,000 miles written in. I have been offered £250 which i think insulting. What do you suggest?
Shane Teskey - April 13, 2010 at 5:07 pm
Hi Charlotte, It's likely that this was a genuine mistake on the part of the garage. In our experience a car clocker will reverse the display by tens of thousands of miles in order to maximise their illegitimate profits. Anything under 10,000 is usually an administrative error. It can be quite common for dealers to advertise their cars online and forget to update the mileage readings as time goes by. As long as you're happy with the car and all mechanical problems have been addressed I'd consider taking the cash offered and ask for a 12 month warranty as a demonstration of the garage's faith in the car. Just be sure that all the relevant records for the car are corrected so it doesn't show up as clocked if you try to sell it again further down the line.
Darren - May 26, 2010 at 1:50 am
Hi guys, Wondering if you can help me. I bought a car from a delaer in Dublin last week.He told me it had been cosmetically damaged (no chassis damage) in an accident. I could see the repair job when I looked under the bonnet on the driver's side valance. When I brought it home to Longford my mechanic/panal beater checked it and was worried because the stamped chasis number couldn't be fully read because of the repair job. The last few numbers are grinded off. I checked out the car's details with a full report on before I purchased and chassis number and all else checked out fine, albeit a high number of owners. Although it has an NCT test, I checked today and they said it would fail the next one because of that. They advised if I could get customs or a Garda verification letter it would pass when due. Can you please help as I am very worried and not sure what to do?
Shane Teskey - May 27, 2010 at 9:00 pm
Hi Darren, I was getting a bit worried when I read your email and came to the part about the VIN number not being legible. Any interference with a VIN is not good and should be double checked. Were you able to access the VIN in any other part of the car? There are a number of places to check depending on the make / model but you can always hook up a diagnostic to the ECU and check that. Make sure you compare it against the VIN number using the update feature on Motorcheck. This will confirm that the VIN you have is the same as the VIN on the national vehicle file. I'm not sure why it would fail the NCT though. I've had a look through the NCT manual and can't find any section that requires the VIN to be legible on the vehicle. Did they give you any particular reason?
Motorcheck Blog· car-clocking-grips-northern-ireland - June 23, 2011 at 9:29 am
[...] of the cars service history is vital in establishing its true mileage.For further tips on how to avoid buying a clocked car click here.Other Posts we've Written on This TopicCar Clocking Costs Irish Consumers Up To €40 [...]
Motorcheck Blog· car-clocking-grips-northern-ireland - June 23, 2011 at 9:29 am
[...] of the cars service history is vital in establishing its true mileage.For further tips on how to avoid buying a clocked car click here.Other Posts we've Written on This TopicCar Clocking Costs Irish Consumers Up To €40 [...]