Car clocking up 400% in downturn

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

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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.