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Sometimes the odometer on a high-mileage vehicle is reset to a deceptively lower mileage, or the odometer on a newer model lease vehicle is disconnected while the vehicle is driven. With lower mileage, these cars sell for higher prices to consumers who never suspect that the mileage is inaccurate and the car may need major repairs.

Resetting, disconnecting, or altering a vehicle’s odometer to conceal the true mileage is called odometer tampering. The Federal Odometer Law is intended to protect you from odometer fraud.  It makes odometer tampering a felony.  In Nebraska, it’s illegal for anyone to engage in odometer tampering or sell a vehicle knowing that the odometer has been altered. A consumer’s best safeguard against this crime is awareness. Remember, odometers aren’t tamper proof.

The Federal Odometer Law requires that the seller of a vehicle state in writing on the title whether the odometer reading is the true mileage, the mileage is in excess of 99,999 (i.e., the odometer has turned over); or is not the true mileage. Nebraska law requires an odometer statement on transfer of title on motor vehicles less than 10 years old. After January 1, 1999, odometer certification is on the Certificate of Title/MSO and no separate attachment will be accepted.

When an odometer breaks, is repaired or replaced, or cannot be adjusted to the true mileage, the odometer must be set at zero. A sticker indicating the true mileage before service and the date of service must be attached to the left (driver’s) door frame. When the vehicle is sold, the disclosure statement must indicate the odometer is not actual mileage.

You can check the vehicle for odometer tampering by looking for marks on the odometer or misaligned numbers and by checking the mileage entered on oil stickers, inspection stickers, and tire warranty cards. Also, the overall condition of the vehicle may provide a clue.

Try to contact former owners if you suspect tampering to find out the mileage when they sold the vehicle.

The odometer reading must be entered on the vehicle title. Check the reading on previous titles to determine if and when any alterations occurred. You can do this using CarFax; a private company which provides vehicle history reports. If a discrepancy is noted you can then contact the Nebraska State Patrol Auto Fraud Division for further investigation.

When buying a used vehicle, be sure the seller has certified the odometer reading in writing. Be careful if the seller tells you the odometer reading is incorrect. If you have any concern, it might be wise to have the car inspected by an impartial auto mechanic. In fact, this is a good practice when buying any used vehicle. Also, beware of buying a vehicle with low mileage that was formerly a leased vehicle. Leased vehicles are driven an average of 30,000 miles a year, and a high percentage have their odometers rolled back when they enter the used car market. This is also another good rule of thumb on private vehicles, as they are usually driven 15,000 miles per year.

If you suspect odometer tampering, or have a complaint about a recently purchased vehicle, or motor vehicle dealer, please contact the Nebraska State Patrol Auto Fraud Division at (402) 471-0111.