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Jamie Gibbs

How to spot a clocked car


Don’t be defrauded by a seller who’s tampered with a car’s mileage. Here’s how to spot the tell-tale signs.


When the first digital odometers made their way to consumer motors, everyone thought that car clocking would finally end. On the contrary, odometer tampering hasn’t been eliminated and remains a huge problem for used car buyers.

In fact, according to HPI, one in 20 cars subject to history check in the UK has been clocked. If you’re looking to buy a secondhand car, or you’ve recently bought one and you suspect it’s been clocked, clue yourself up with our guide.

What is car clocking?

Clocking has been around for decades with sellers ‘winding’ back odometers, making used cars more appealing to unwitting buyers. Fewer miles can potentially add hundreds of pounds to the value of a car.

Although most of today’s cars pack digital odometers, crooks have found workarounds and the mileage can still be altered. Altering the mileage on cars was once considered prevalent with dealers. Now, due to strict penalties and increased risk, it’s no longer the case.

That’s why crooks are more likely to sell you a clocked car through a private sale. With the right equipment and software, fraudsters can tamper with digital odometers making them show whatever number they want.

Under a car

Which cars are most likely to be affected?

You’d think that older cars are a tempting target for crooks who want to boost the value of their worn out motor. But tampering with newer cars’ mileage has become more predominant in recent years.

Because new cars don’t have to be taken for a MOT test for the first three years (or four if you live in Northern Ireland), there’s likely to be no paper trail. However, if the car has been serviced during that time, mileage is likely to be recorded in its service history.

Apart from that, there’s almost no way of finding out the historical mileage of a newer car.

How to spot a clocked car

If you’re buying a car, there are a few things you can do to detect mileage rollback:

  • Thoroughly describe the car when creating your advert.

  • Be wary when dealing with buyers who avoid seeing the car in person.

  • Don’t be fooled by fake email receipts.

  • Use search engines to check a buyer’s phone number and email when in doubt.

  • Take your time with money transfers and cheques.

  • Make sure you’ve been paid before you part with the car.

  • Don’t let other people pay for the car on the behalf of the buyer.

If you’re happy with a car’s mileage and you want to buy it, make a record of the mileage on your first viewing.

Clockers sometimes return the mileage back to the real one after a buyer is ready to pay for the car. This way everything will appear legal after the purchase.

Man checking a car

What to do if your car has been clocked

Surprisingly, clocking isn’t actually illegal. However, sellers are legally obliged to tell the buyer that the car they’re selling had its mileage altered.

If you suspect a car’s mileage is false before you buy it, you should inform your local Trading Standards office. And, of course, you shouldn’t buy it.

If you’ve already bought a car and you discover that it’s been clocked, you shouldn’t try to sell it on as you’ll be committing an offence.

Firstly, you’ll be entitled to a full refund according to the Consumer Rights Act 2015. This is because the seller has misrepresented the car and didn’t make you aware of the clocking.

If the seller has disappeared or they’re doing their best to avoid you, you should still contact your local Trading Standards office.

As a buyer you’re also protected by the 2006 Fraud Act, as the seller has deceived you for financial gain or profit. This is applicable to both dealers and private sellers.


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