By on December 20, 2012


I recently stood on the showroom floor of a Los Angeles-area luxury car dealership as their sales manager pointed out a middle-aged couple browsing the lot. “We will never sell them a car,” he said. “In fact, we are going to politely ask them to leave.” Why? “One of our salespeople recognized them. They are professional Lemon Law scammers. They have hit two other dealers but they are not going to hit us.”

Welcome to Southern California where car buyers are often criminals, ripping off automakers and their captive finance arms to the tune of over $50M a year. These sophisticated white-collar crooks are skilled at using fraudulent means to obtain a vehicle, such as ID theft or sub-leasing cons, or by using fraudulent means to dispose of a vehicle, such as engineering bogus Lemon Law claims or by rolling back a car’s odometer to avoid lease-end excess-mileage charges.

The targeted vehicles are almost exclusively from Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche brands. These automakers and their banks report that around 50% of their fraud cases nationwide occur in Southern California. The Los Angeles melting pot attracts the best and worst class of people, including some clever organized crime groups. Add to this the perception that you are nobody if you are not driving the latest luxomobile in LA and I say you got Trouble in RX City. It is said that all automotive trends start in Southern California and consumers defrauding automakers is one of them.

Some of the outlaws are extremely adept at their chosen crimes and some are hilariously inept. In Part One of Two installments in this exclusive series we will look at the car disposal criminals, starting with a scheme currently sweeping the Southland: The Lemon Law Scam.

In the past, only folks who fell on hard times and were behind on their car’s lease payments would attempt this rip-off; now bandits plan the gambit upfront as a means to drive a new luxury car every year. These unethical individuals also boast high credit scores; in other words they are a bank’s worst nightmare.

The con works like this: go lease a high-end automobile for the longest term, the least miles and lowest down payment you can negotiate. For example, you can lease a 2013 BMW 535i for 39 months at 10,000 miles per year for as little as $585 per month with a few hundred dollars down for title, and license fees. That’s a cut-rate payment for a $55,000 ride and you are now cruising Colorado Boulevard in style.

Enjoy driving your Beemer for a year or so or until you decide you want the latest Lexus. At this point you are buried in your lease deeper than Jimmy Hoffa as it would cost mega-thousands of dollars over the value of the vehicle to pay off the contract.

It is now time for the twist: you or a technician friend tamper with the mechanics of the car to make it eligible to be a Lemon Law buyback for being unrepairable. In California, a defect that cannot be repaired in as little as two visits to the dealer, or if the vehicle is in the shop over 30 days, can be eligible for Lemon Law status. Thus, a stuck dashboard warning light, a balky seat belt buckle or leaking brake fluid can make you the poor victim of the evil carmaker. All it takes is a little tinkering.

Next, hire one of scores of LA lawyers like this one who specialize in Lemon Law cases. Under the threat of a lawsuit, the attorney will negotiate with BMW of North America for them to buy your car back and pay off the lease and will often score a few extra dollars for your “hardship.” Once the case is settled, you head over to your local Lexus store and repeat the process.

One Lemon Law attorney discusses the tampering issue on his website but does not specifically discourage the practice:

…OWNERS BEWARE! What consumer’s don’t know is what the car manufacturer’s DO know about owners tampering with their vehicle’s to “create” a California Lemon Law case…Typical “tampering” of cars include repeated incidents of dash warning lights for various vehicle systems, including, but not limited to: SRS/airbag, “CHECK ENGINE”, traction control, brakes, ABS, and more…Making matters even MORE serious, auto dealers now have special “tamper-seal” for electrical connectors and devices that are invisible to the eye. The newest generation even has a “imprint” film, that takes fingerprints…

The lawyer’s assessment of automakers’ countermeasures is a few years out of date. The latest defense tactics must not be revealed here as the crooks no doubt have Google Alerts set for the words, “tamper” and “Lemon Law.”

Customers caught tampering with their cars find their claims denied and are advised to never set foot in that brand’s dealerships again. Like with most fraud, prosecution by carmakers or their banks is uncommon – accusing a car owner of fraud and losing the case would result in a public relations disaster.

Odometer Fraud

Before we discuss the Angelenos who roll back their odometers to defraud automakers, allow us to make this statement:

America is losing the war on odometer fraud and the situation is growing worse.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been claiming since 2002 that there are 450,000 cases of odometer tampering annually in the United States, while CarFax reports the number of instances has jumped 57% in the past four years. Contrast this with the fact that less than 20 people per year are actually convicted of the crime and this indicates that the enforcement of odometer laws is not a priority with state and federal agencies.

The vast majority of people apprehended for odometer fraud are either individuals or owners of independent used car lots. Most of the clockers caught are either still plying their trade like this man or receive a slap on the wrist like this dealer. The latter, who also covered some odometers with electrical tape to fool buyers, has been allowed by the court to return to the wholesale car business.

Speaking of dumb criminals, this father and son team from Florida would never make it in California – their placing fliers on vehicles at an auction offering their “odometer services” was incredibly dim-witted and not up to the sophisticated standards of Southland scammers.

The recent explosion in the number of odometer fraud cases can be directly tied to the easy availability of digital odometer rollback devices. For a few hundred dollars, anyone can buy a “mileage correction” contraption from a number of firms on the Internet, even on eBay and The so-called “CAN” device below is offered by a company in China:


“BENZ CAN Filter By installing this small pcb inside the EIS module, you can make mileage corrections on NEW MB cars of w221/w164/w204/w212……, and scanner can not find original mileage from EIS module”

Makers of these devices claim their tools can fool a car’s Engine Information System (EIS), thus making the mileage adjustment permanently undetectable; the automakers claim this is not true – at least that is what they say publicly.

Our Los Angeles dodgers plot their ploy upfront, much like the Lemon Law liars. They are high-mileage drivers, but enter into a low-mileage lease to get the cheapest possible payment. On most brands this means 10,000 miles per year, though Mercedes-Benz Financial offers 7,500 mile leases, making them more vulnerable to this scheme.

During the term of their lease, the lessees never have their car serviced at a dealership or shop that will record their odometer reading, thus outfoxing CarFax and the bank. By reversing their odometers prior to lease end, the offenders will then not be charged excess mileage penalties by the bank, which is typically 25 cents per mile. Thus on a three-year term a scammer can avoid $7,500 in charges based on driving 20,000 miles per year on a 10,000 mile lease.

One luxury automaker’s captive finance arm recently filed the rare lawsuit against a customer, accusing him of clocking his odometer just before the termination of his lease. The defendant lives in the city of Glendale, considered by automakers to be the epicenter of fraud in Southern California. In this closely-watched case, the bank is more interested in sending a message to the tight-knit criminal community rather than recouping the thousand of dollars in diminished value of the car.

Stay tuned for Part Two of our series on LA’s conniving auto buyers, where we will explore identity theft, sub-leasing, crooked auto brokers, and how you can obtain your very own parts car for free.

It is never boring being in the automobile business here in the City of Anglers…

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91 Comments on “Tales From The Cooler: The Land Of The Crooked Car Buyer – Part One...”

  • avatar

    Thanks Virgil – that was a fascinating article. I look forward to part two.

  • avatar

    “Most of the clockers caught are either still plying their trade like this man or receive a slap on the wrist like this dealer. The latter, who also covered some odometers with electrical tape to fool buyers, has been allowed by the court to return to the wholesale car business.

    Speaking of dumb criminals,”

    You can’t really call them dumb criminals if there were no consequences for getting caught.

  • avatar

    Ten points if you can ID the vehicle in the dash picture… I say some kind of small GM, late eighties?

  • avatar

    Awesome read!

  • avatar

    Good read. I remember back in 1978 or 79 trying to roll back my mileage on my 73 Charger using a coathanger. I tried once Saturday and I failed miserably. I wasn’t selling the car I just wanted to try for the sake of trying.

  • avatar

    Dang! I never even know such shenanigans existed. People can be awfully creative in their criminal endeavor, don’t they? Good thing I ain’t in the car selling business. Thanks for the enlightening article!

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t, either. I thought odometer tampering was a thing of the past, limited to the mechanical type – pretty naive.

      Well, my lemon Honda case was legit, but it didn’t yield very much for me even though I won. I can’t imagine intentionally going through that again, but some people just love trying to beat the system.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    Interesting. I am really surprised that banks are so stupid. Wait, no I’m not really surprised that banks are so stupid. Especially in California.

    • 0 avatar

      The banks are stupid? Solitary and organized criminals are actively working to defraud auto dealers, finance companies, and used car buyers yet somehow the banks are at fault?

      Put the blame where it belongs, with the criminals.

  • avatar

    Confession time, I’ve done it. In 1986 some friends and I needed to rent a car to go to Wisconsin and back. After calling around we found a really cheap rental. When filling out the paperwork we discovered the catch. The car couldn’t leave the state of Florida. So when I got it home I removed the speedometer/odometer cable. Near the end of the trip I reconnected it and turned the car back in with “only” 300 or so miles on it.
    One of the many reasons I’ll never buy a former rental.

    • 0 avatar

      IN high school I worked for two different dealers who also ran car rentals to ensure a steady stream of, mostly, lightly used cars, to gain manufacturer volume bonuses and to get some asses in seats, and hopefully, get decent revenue from the operation. I worked nights, refueling cars, taking down mileage readings and so fort for the cars rented by corporations and other organizations and on weekends doing the same and giving the cars an extra wash down.
      We had a bunch of cars that where getting a bit long in the tooth, they where all Volvo V/S40s (first gen pre face lift) and in a horrible blue color, we all hated them, they had the fuel filler on the wrong side, they where not very reliable and they where slow as hell (1.8i), and some days they where missing the side indicators as the local red necks stole them. To ad insult to injury the poor things where washed with brushes, old horrible dealership washes mostly used for small transport vehicles, so the horrible blue paint where almost gone just above the windshield and the car had loads of scratches all ower.
      Working a Saturday I where out talking to a guy at the front desk when I spotted one of the horrible cars parked in the show room. A punter was looking at the car – now waxed with a respectable amount of filler over the copious amounts of color wax that the dealership “detailers” had applies – when he was approached by one of the oldtimers in the sales squad.
      “So your looking at the S40? Nice car, this one is a gem.”
      “What’s [the] engine in this one?”
      “Oh, it’s the 1.8, the middle engine in the line up. I’d say this is the perfect engine, the 1.6 is a bit on the light side and some find that the 2.0 is a bit to much to handle”.

      That was the time i knew that I would stay well clear of rentals, although I did suspect that I wouldn’t the time we found out that you can start almost any car in fourth or fifth gear if you don’t give a f**k about the clutch.

  • avatar

    This was an awesome story. This is the kind of stuff I want to read about on TTAC. MOAR PLZ.

  • avatar

    Virgil – can you help out with more info on the costs related to successfully pursuing a lemon-law case? You mention that the scammer can tamper with the car and then “hire an attorney”. I can’t imagine an attorney wanting to mess with this for less than a few thousand bucks. At that point, is it really worth the effort, cost and time just to flip into a new car?

    These “bad” customers are present in virtually every business. A good friend reminded me recently that “sometimes, you have to fire the customer”.

    • 0 avatar

      Under lots of lemon laws, the attorney for the claimant gets an award for fees against the defendant seller. The purpose is to level the playing field by making it possible for consumers to hire an attorney without coming out of pocket. But since it is economically unfeasible for dealers to fight every little claim, you can see how it can also become a gravy train for the attorney.

      • 0 avatar

        True lemon law claims aren’t against the dealer. Lemon law cases are against the manufacturer. The manufacturers do fight frivolous suits and some that aren’t. In the 1990s, I had a case against GM where my client had transmission fluid shooting out his transmission dipstick every time his truck did anything moderately stressful. My client kept bringing it in, and the dealer kept saying they couldn’t replicate the problem. We sued GM. GM denied the truck was defective. The same day that I got a letter denying the defect, GM sent my client a locking transmission dipstick in the mail as part of a product improvement program. Once I alerted GM’s lawyer to this fact, the case settled immediately.

        I never had a lemon law case against Ford. I had numerous Ford owners call me, but they always were able to obtain satisfaction through Ford’s internal system. That’s the way things should go.

        By the way, lemon law damages are not a free ride. Under the formula used in most states, the damages awardable to the consumer are calculated based on the buying the car back for the amount paid for the vehicle minus a mileage adjustment calculated on the price of the car divided by 100,000 miles times the miles driven. These days, when a car can be expected to go 200,000 or more miles, the buyback remedy is unsatisfying. The alternate remedy is a replacement, but if you grew to hate a car due to its problems, you usually aren’t that keen to get another one of the same type.

    • 0 avatar

      My lemon law case cost me nothing but time and some record-keeping, since I went with a contingency firm. I’m sure they got more money than I did ($1700).

    • 0 avatar

      “These ‘bad’ customers are present in virtually every business.”

      Good point. I work for a company that produces a sophisticated industrial electronic product. Some of our customers intentionally break them to get free ‘tuneups’, while others (including one reseller) have cloned parts of it to avoid buying authentic repair parts. Yet we keep doing business with them.

  • avatar

    A few years back, the tachometer in my Dad’s Acura broke and he decided not to get it fixed. The next time he renewed the registration, the state questioned the mileage. Turns out, the tach and odometer were connected somehow.

  • avatar

    Really interesting perspective you are sharing here. Look forward to the next one.

    It puts the PITA electronic security measures used by automakers in perspective. It’s likely that its less about stopping tinkerers than it is about stopping con-men.

    • 0 avatar

      Well tinkers and con-men have a pretty decent overlap I’d imagine. Your turbo is shot due to some doubtful electronic tinkering, are most tinkers going to volunteer information that clearly voids the warranty? I don’t think so.

  • avatar

    Brilliant article. Hard to believe, had I not read it here.

  • avatar

    Am frankly amazed Calif. Lemon Laws are being used so much to bilk automakers. While living there I had to resort to Lemon Law when two, yes two, Saturn Ions severely malfunctioned over a year and the dealers’ service proved incompetent (FYI Ion’s rated as one of the worst cars ever made).

    Here in Oregon we have no lemon laws for people to bilk, nor to help honest people who get stuck with the occasional manufactured POS.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      I disagree,

      My 2004 Ion is the best car I ever owned, and the only one that passed the $100/100K mile test. That is, not more than $100 of unscheduled repairs over 100K miles. In fact, it did it twice. It now has 210K and works as well as the day I brought it home.

  • avatar

    That’s the whole problem with this culture. They all think it’s okay to “get one over on the big guy.” Moreover, it’s stupid. If you lease a car at 7,500 miles a year and drive it for 20,000 (which is an average number for some people), unless you want to replace every component in the car, there will be signs of such…

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with this being a problem with the culture, but I disagree that the car will show signs of over-use. People are crazy hard on some cars, and others baby them. My car with almost 60k miles looks like its almost brand new, and I have friends who’s new cars are beat to crap. A typical new car today can go 60k miles without really needing anything replaced that you can see, so as long as it is cosmetically taken care of the leasing company won’t know to look deeper. They will check the miles and as long as its within the limits they will be done.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s amazing how much of a difference regular cleaning and maintenance can have on a vehicle. I’ve seen fifteen year old cars with well over 100K on the odometer that look good enough to be moved from the trade-line to the showroom, as well as two year old cars with under 20,000 miles that need to go to auction because the reconditioning costs just aren’t worth it to try to retail them.

        Two instances that really stick out in my head are a late 90’s Silverado that a guy traded in, 120K or so on the odometer, that was absolutely flawless both cosmetically and mechanically. It was marked to go to the wholesaler just because of the age, but as I was driving it over to be picked up I was amazed that a truck that old could drive just as well as a brand new one. The fabric on the seats had absolutely no wear, the original floormats were perfect, the interior buttons all worked with no worn paint, etc.

        On the other hand, I had the (dis)pleasure of moving a Milan lease return over to wear all of the lease returns went, and despite it being only a couple years old with low miles, I had to hold my head outside the window as I drove it. The leather was filthy, stained, and ripped, the brakes squealed, there was something growing in the interior carpet, and the entire car smelled like a pack of skunks had died in it, risen from the grave, had an orgy, then died again all before baking in the hot Florida sun for a month.

      • 0 avatar

        @NulloModo Thanks for the laugh. The car smelled like a pack of skunks had died in it….nice image.

        I have this tring about my stuff, and my cars/motorcycles especially – I want them to be clean and well maintained. So I stay after it. I’ve never sold or traded a car that wasn’t as nice or nicer than when I acquired it. My friends and family joke about it. And I know I’m a pain in the ass. It’s just one of those things. Stuff is expensive and should be cared for.

        I even baby my rental cars.

      • 0 avatar


        Concur 100%

        I may be hard on my cars, autocross, track etc., but I love my cars and take good care of them. When buying a used car, I look for something clean like the aforementioned Silverado.

        My current ride is an 00 S2000. Very few people believe that the car is 12 years old. 2 cars ago I had an 96 Audi A4, which I offloaded in 06. It displayed many of the QC maladies of that generation, but anybody getting in the car or looking at it from the exterior didn’t believe me when I told them it was a decade old.

        On the other hand it is a slippery slope in cosmetic and mechanical care for a vehicle. I amd religious about caring for my cars, my wife not so much. One accident, even after quality repairs, and she loses interest in caring for the car cosmetically. It’s been 6 weeks since her car has been through even a drive through car wash (probably something I should take care of this weekend).

        People let things go when they see the machinery as haing a flaw and stop caring for it. My father destroys/breaks cars, and pretty much everything else he owns and I have no idea how he is that rough on things. I attribute it to our disposable society and entitled expectations that crap will work and loko nice, and if it stops doing that, just get a new one.

  • avatar

    WOW! Fascinating article. Between this and today’s wrecking yard article, this has been a great day of TTAC articles. I even liked Jack’s piece on the Mustang Facebook page. What a great website.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    So the new electronic odomoters are not “impossible” to turn back. Software locks can be picked too.
    In PA where I live, mileage is recorded and sent to the DMV during the required annual car inspection. To avoid getting caught turning back the odometer would require an annual roll back before the inspection. The odometer could not be rolled back to less than the previous year’s mileage. Otherwise it would show up in the database as negative mileage.

    • 0 avatar

      From the description given below the PCB picture at the top, I’d say that what actually happens is that the additional circuitry contains a “spoofed” odometer memory bank which can be user-modified, and when the cluster display (or a diagnostic scantool) requests the odometer reading from memory, it is provided from this added module instead of from the vehicles true odometer memory location.

      For obvious reasons, vehicle OEMS attempt to keep the workings of their odometer circuitry very close to the vest, but there are a lot of really smart criminals out there (computer viruses, anybody?) that relish hacking, cracking and reverse-engineering things.

      • 0 avatar

        “there are a lot of really smart criminals out there (computer viruses, anybody?) that relish hacking, cracking and reverse-engineering things.”

        Guilty, although I have *yet* to expand into the automotive programming arena.

  • avatar

    To say it nicely – some rich people stay rich by not paying vendors or service providers at all or for the full contracted amount.

    Be it by scamming auto lemon laws, rolling back lease car mileage, not tipping wait staff, not paying or short paying service providers or small vendors, these type of people rely on the fact that it often costs more to sue them for the money than the actual cost of the service or products. They make sure that the lack of payment issue is not clear cut but due to a complaint or problem with the service or product. They keep it on the civil court side using these tactics versus getting hit with criminal charges for not paying.

    One example:
    I was acquainted with the owner of a custom cabinetry shop which did high mid range to upper range custom cabinet manufacturing and installation. He had one ultra wealthy customer who was building a $1 million plus home and who was acting as his own general contractor on the job (or using his brother or similar as general contractor). The customer contracted about $45,000 in custom kitchen cabinets (including install) alone for a kitchen that was about $100,000 total. The cabinet shop got a 1/2 deposit, built the cabinets and installed them in the under construction home. Then, suddenly just after the installation, the customer had problems with the cabinet specs, the color wasn’t matched exactly, the installation was shoddy, the base material was incorrect, etc and said that he wouldn’t pay the 1/2 remainder of the cost. He basically told the shop owner to eat the $22,000 left to pay and to try and sue if the shop owner wanted the money.

    The cabinet shop owner was more savvy than to take that bait and used fire to fight fire. He also knew that the home was still open and under active construction by various interior tradesmen. On a day when the shop owner found out that the contractor/home owner would be away, he loaded up himself and three of his guys with charged-up cordless drills and went over to the house. In about 15 minutes, they took every cabinet door, with hinges still attached, off the cabinet boxes and removed every drawer from the drawer cabinets and took all the pieces back to his shop.

    A couple of days later the home owner called the shop ranting and raving about the “theft” of his cabinet parts from his house. The shop owner reminded the home owner that, since the cabinets were not completely paid for, the cabinets were not completely owned by him yet. The shop owner then told the home owner that the doors and drawers had not been stolen but only had been removed for an “additional surface treatment” which the cabinet shop had “neglected” to perform before installing the cabinets. He apologized about letting down on “our great quality control and all that” to the home owner. The cabinet shop owner said that once a cashier’s check was received for the remaining balance, with an extra $500 included, he would be pleased to bring the cabinet doors and drawers back.

    Within two days he had a check for the balance with the extra $500 added and got it deposited. He gave his lowest paid shop guy a spray can of furniture wax and soft rags to add the “additional surface treatment” to the doors and drawer fronts. After this was done, the shop loaded the pieces up, took them to the house, and reinstalled them under the watchful eye of the pissed off scammy home owner.

    The story was actually much longer and much funnier per the original telling by the cabinet shop owner but you get the idea of those type of people…

  • avatar

    Glendale, huh? No surprise there.

  • avatar

    “The defendant lives in the city of Glendale, considered by automakers to be the epicenter of fraud in Southern California.”

    Bingo. In fact, Glendale is considered the credit card fraud capital of the WORLD.

    I know a guy who once met a Glendale cop at a party, and he had shared the problem of rampant lemon law crime in the city. The tricks mentioned in the article may also come into play now, but apparently there’s a much simpler scam they used to pull, in order to always be driving a new BMW, Lexus, Mercedes, etc.

    They’d pour a large amount of sandy dirt into the oil filler, then drive the engine really hard until something inside started knocking. They’d go back to the dealer and threaten a lemon law complaint if they didn’t get the car bought back or the lease cancelled. They’d then move on to the next luxury dealership, and repeat the process. This “dirt trick” may actually be out of fashion now if the various dealers and manufacturers caught on, hence the more high-tech stuff.

    Drive around Glendale sometime if you’re out this way. Lots of twenty and thirty-something men with no jobs, and living in crappy apartments with their parents, but all driving new-ish luxury cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s not be so hyperbolic. Romania is probably the credit card fraud capital of the world. But Glendale has a lot of scams running for sure.

      “Drive around Glendale sometime if you’re out this way. Lots of twenty and thirty-something men with no jobs, and living in crappy apartments with their parents, but all driving new-ish luxury cars.”

      This isn’t necessarily that odd among Los Angeles-area Armenian (or Persian) populations. There are plenty of twenty- and thirty-something kids who are basically trustafarians whose parents pay for everything, including the fancy BMW, Audi, Mercedes, or Lexus. I even knew one guy whose parents used to bring him groceries at that age because he was that lazy, and the bastard didn’t even help carry them in. One of his friends, whose dad owned a dealership, regularly used to drive an Audi R8.

      The parents themselves, in these cases, often drive a beater Camry or minivan and live in a modest house/condo, but often the parents actually have money because they do live so modestly themselves. Of course, there are also plenty of flashy Armenians and Persians who are largely cash-flow negative and full of debt, but it’s hard to differentiate one from the other.

      Also, driving a entry-level luxury car in LA isn’t just reserved for flashy minorities, but also starving actors and “I’m writing a script” guys. These guys have the ubiquitous 3-series or C-class.

      • 0 avatar

        In some cultures it’s a status signal be able to provide lavishly for their kids.

        When I used to hang out near UCLA, I’d often see twentysomethings in the newest, latest exotic cars, usually in flat black or purple, sporting a full suite of Platinum Motorsports “modifications.” Not cheap stuff!

      • 0 avatar

        Wow, am I out of it. My son’s ambition is to borrow our 12-year-old Hyundai for use at college next year. I don’t want him to take it since it’s so old. Guess I need to get him a new 3-series.

  • avatar

    Glendale, bro……

    I worked for a short time at a “high line European” dealer in Glendale, and they had a FULL TIME factory representative on staff to “monitor” warranty repairs and/por claims, never seen more dirty pool in my life.

    I hated it there

  • avatar

    A lot of this stuff isn’t new either. I had a new 1965 Barracuda that I factory-ordered, and traded just before the 50,000-mile warranty was up because of continuing problems with the differential. I saw the car a year later, and the new owner told me that it had had 28,000 miles when he bought it. He absolutely refused to believe me when I told him it was at least a 50,000-mile car. (I had taken fairly good care of it.)

    A friend had a new 65 Dodge Monaco that he sold with 80k miles on it; I saw it on a car lot some time later with 30-some k showing. Again, it’d been a well-cared-for car.

    In each case the last dealer was different from the dealer where the car had been traded in. So even if a buyer could show fraud and wanted to sue, there’d be a question of who had “fixed” the odometer reading.

  • avatar

    This was a great read! Can’t wait for part 2. I had no idea crap like this was going on. I really thought Odo’s were really sealed up well and virtually inviolate.

  • avatar

    And this is why I come to the truth about cars. Great read.

  • avatar

    My inner former car salesman really enjoyed this article. Buyers are indeed liars in so many cases. But it goes deeper than sophisticated lemon law scams and odometer tampering. It goes all the way down to basic advice people give, like “Better trade it in before that problem gets worse.” Or “You don’t have to disclose an accident if it was mostly just cosmetic.”

    My personal favourite as a rookie car salesman was being beat up for four hours on test drives and negotiations, only to have the customer look me in the eye and say they’re going home to think about it, when in fact they’re bee-lining for the nearest competing dealer to have my last quote undercut by $100. Eventually I learned how to survive in the business, and all it cost me was my faith in mankind.

    Keep ’em coming, Virgil.

  • avatar

    Great article Virgil, really enjoyed it. It truly is amazing the amount of work people will put into criminal activities.

    I just heard from a friend who works in retail the sophisticated set-ups FAMILIES of shoplifters use to distract employees while others steal the goods. They seem to be known around the mall stores, similar to the Lemon Law couple.

  • avatar

    My friend bought a 2002 Audi A4 a few years ago that supposedly had around 80k miles on it. He drove it around for a couple years and then decided to sell it and get something else. He listed it and had interested buyers right off the bat. One of the first guys who test drove it pulled a Carfax which showed odometer discrepancies. Turned out the car had over 200k miles on it, but the previous owner neglected to mention it.

    Fortunately my friend still had the phone number of the guy he bought the car from. He called him up and said, “Look, I was going to sell this car for $8000. Because of the actual miles I can now only sell it for $4000. You owe me 4000 bucks.”

    Somehow he got the guy to write him a check. Must have threatened legal action or something. Anyway, he sold it for $4000 with full disclosure.

    About six months later I saw the car listed again, and the new owner was trying to sell it for around $7500. He didn’t mention the mileage issue.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    What goes around comes around. Automakers and dealers are known for deceitful business practices. Hard to get misty when they occasionally get the short end of the stick.

  • avatar

    This might explain why BMWs have a “tamper dot” and the mileage is stored, semi-independently in three separate modules. As far as I understand, you can get rid of the dot by recoding the modules, but actual mileage will remain somewhere.

    I’ve come into contact with people who engaged in odometer fraud to some degree. A friend of a friend of mine would drive around with the gauge cluster disconnected, getting gas once every 2-3 days or after a long trip. I think he did that for a year or two, but the car was old and high mileage enough to begin with, that a good detailing job would have boosted the resale value more than 10-20k fewer miles. Also knew a guy in college whose parents always had 20k miles taken off an odometer before selling them.

    I’ll have to remind myself to get a good PPI done if I’m ever buying a used car.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re right about the BMWs, but even the tamper dot can be defeated. On my ’01 5 series, the mileage is stored in the light control module as well as the cluster. But you can stop the odometer by unplugging the ABS module and the tamper dot will not trip. I found that out when I needed to send it in for repair. I was honest and kept it in the garage until it was reconnected, but I could see others trying to get some free mileage. I was surprised to say the least though. I did the same repair on my ’00 Audi and the speedometer and odometer still worked with the ABS module disconnected.

      • 0 avatar

        Ecu, dash and light module is the BMW way, at least with HIDs, the first two are not really even tamper resistant, the third however seems to be overlooked by general – as in not brand specific – fraudsters.

  • avatar

    Some are thinking ‘dealers deserve it’, but no one is “entitled” to a life of luxury. And, when dealers close, no sales tax coming into the city, and then you get higher property tax bills. So much fore ‘living large cheaply’.

  • avatar

    MBZ’s, odometer tampering, glendale…Sounds like Armenians.

    • 0 avatar

      Lilpoindexter has it right. My company quietly declines any contracts from a company on the “Armenian Highway”. It sounds like discrimination at first, but there really seems to be a culture of getting around the rules by birthright in the area. We were bitten not a few times, but constantly in ways that make the cabinet story look elementary. So you stop the cause of the loss.

  • avatar

    I’ll fess up. Both cars I own have had the odo’s messed with. My Explorer suffered from a failed gear in the odo motor drive. and I didn’t realize it for some time, other than it got crappy mileage- like 8-10mpg when it should be getting 20-22mpg, till I headed to Colorado and wondered why I had gone 300 miles and the trip odo was showing 20 miles and not moving. So the 308,xxx miles on the odo is off a couple thousand.

    The Chevelle… speedo cable was broken, and the plastic gear in the trans was broken. it read 10,486 and I’d believe 110,486 easily. Previous owner said was broke for the two years he owned it, and no telling how long it’d been that way. I put all the parts in it, took it to get a state inspection, and the state said 3x,xxx miles were on it, so I set the odo for that. I tell people straight up when they ask how many miles it has, that I don’t really know, but I’ve out 50,000 miles on it, and it seems to have less than 200,000 miles on it as it still has a ton of factory parts on it.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a riviera with a noisy speedo that I eventually ended up disconnecting for awhile. I probably drove at least 10K miles before fixing it.

      The car was 30 years old when I sold it so it really didn’t matter.

    • 0 avatar

      Guilty also, replacing the gauge cluster in my truck for one with a tach, and had to take off about 60k mile from the “new” one. Not all that difficult, but you did have to disassemble the cluster, something an average used car lot wouldn’t want to do on a 30 year old truck.

  • avatar

    Excellent article!

    I heard many stories about how popular clocking was in the 80s but I wasn’t aware it was still a big issue. The only time I was personally made aware of it on a new style “digital” car was a friend of a friend who was in the construction business had a relationship with the service department at a local Chevrolet dealership. From what I was told for a few hundred bucks each year the shop would use some sort of GM proprietary tool or computer and halve the mileage on this gentleman’s personal ride, in this case a Trailblazer. The best part was in 2004 we had remnants of Hurricane Ivan come through the area, and a tree legitimately fell and crushed the Trailblazer. Insurance paid out for a SUV claiming 50Kish when in fact it was more like 100K, and this gentleman laughed all the way to the bank. I just love when insurance companies lose one, because heaven knows they win everything else.

    Not sure whatever happened with this one: dot uk/news/article-2188022/Not-Progressive–Insurance-company-defends-drivers-killer-court.html

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure insurance companies ever lose. They compensate for fraud with the rates they charge everyone.

      I’m not amused by this Trailblazer incident. The way I see it, everyone with coverage through the same insurance company paid for this “gentlemen’s” Trailblazer while the insurance company laughed all the way to the bank.

  • avatar

    Don’t forget the best-ever odometer rollback scheme caught on film:

  • avatar

    Excellent article! Can’t wait for part two

  • avatar

    I sold used cars for years and never once rolled one back but then , they were just old VW’s etc. and I doubt anyone cared about the collected miles .

    Glendale is far worse than you think , for *exactly* the un P.C. reasons mentioned , _all_ of them .

    The truth isn’t P.C.most of the time , I used to work with one of those crooked bastards and he bragged non stop about how he had the birth right to lie , cheat and steal and America deserved the ripping off he gave it .

    I choose to not $pend my $ in Glendale , Ca.


  • avatar

    Wow! I am shocked! I am shocked not by the article’s revelations but by all the comments below that are surprised to learn of these things happening.

    Unfortunately I know people who adjust their lease odometers just as casually as they buy their shoes. They will never again buy a car – lease only. They make one phone call, a guy shows up with his black box, asks what mileage you want, two minutes later the mileage is adjusted.

    Today you pretty much cannot trust any low mileage used car from Brooklyn or Queens, no matter whether it’s a Corolla or S class . It’s a whole lot more rampant than this article represents.

  • avatar

    odo rollbacks, etc aren’t news…the tech changes but the scam remains.

    I’m kinda surprised at the lemon law scam. I’m an attorney, so I’ve seen my share of “takes more work to scam than be honest” situations, but this one appears risky.

    If you can qualify for the car on credit, and your scam does not work, you are left with a destroyed car and a big note/lease. This is a lot more risk than rolling the “1” Back and the car only has 87,000 miles now.

    Oh, and I’d avoid any NYC used cars, just for the fact that 50k NYC miles is equal to 180k miles in the midwest…

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