What is Car Clocking and How To Avoid It

Written by Danny Collins
Last updated: May 15, 2022

Are you looking to buy a used car? If so, there are a few things you should be aware of before making your purchase, from ensuring you get a good deal to avoiding the possibility that the odometer may have been tampered with (a process known as car clocking).

But what exactly is car clocking? And how can you avoid buying a clocked car? In this article, we’ll explore the answers to these questions and more.

What Is Car Clocking?

Car clocking is the illegal practice of rolling back the odometer on a used car to make it appear as though it has less mileage than it does. This is done to inflate the value of the car and make it more attractive to buyers.

While car clocking is most commonly associated with private sellers, there have been cases of dealerships engaging in this practice as well. A recent study found that as many as one in ten used cars on sale in the UK may have had their odometers tampered with.

What Are The Common Methods Of Car Clocking?

There are a few different ways that car clocking can be done. The most common method is simply disconnecting the odometer, which allows the seller to reset it to whatever mileage they choose.

Another popular method is known as “odometer rollback fraud.” This involves physically altering the odometer so that it reads a lower number of miles than it has. This can be done by opening up the odometer and changing the numbers manually or by using a device that alters the digital reading.

What Makes Clocked Car Dangerous?

Aside from the obvious ethical concerns of buying a clocked car, there are several practical dangers as well. The biggest danger is that you may end up paying more for the car than it’s worth.

Even if you do manage to get a good deal on a clocked car, there’s no guarantee that it will be a reliable vehicle. A car with high mileage is more likely to need repairs and may not have the same lifespan as a car with less mileage.

Another disadvantage of this practice is that crucial components may fail as a result of being replaced at the wrong time. A car’s timing belt is one such example: if it isn’t changed at the proper mileage, it could break, resulting in a significant engine failure that could be expensive to repair.

How To Spot A Clocked Car

There are a few things you can look for that may indicate that the car you’re interested in has had its odometer tampered with. Here are  a few red flags to watch out for:

  • The car’s odometer reading is significantly lower than similar models –  If you’re looking at a car that has 50,000 miles on it but all the other cars in its class have 100,000+, that’s a red flag.
  • The car’s odometer reading is an even number – Many people who clock cars will reset the odometer to an even number (e.g., 50,000) because it looks more believable than an odd number (e.g., 51,234).
  • The car has a new odometer – If the car you’re looking at has a brand-new odometer, that’s another sign that something may be up.
  • The car has mismatched tires – Tires typically have a lifespan of 20,000-25,000 miles. If the car you’re looking at has new tires but a low odometer reading, that’s another sign that the odometer may have been tampered with.
  • The car has excessive wear and tear –  Another indicator that the odometer may have been rolled back is if the vehicle you’re looking at appears to have more wear and tear than its odometer reading would indicate.
  • The car has had multiple owners in a short time –  A car that has had multiple owners in a short time frame (e.g., two years) is another red flag, as this could be indicative of the previous owner(s) trying to get rid of a car with high mileage.

How to Avoid Buying a Clocked Car

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to avoid buying a clocked car. Here are a few tips:

  • Check the car’s service history. If the car you’re looking at has had multiple owners, make sure to get the service history from each one. This will give you an idea of how many miles the car has been driven.
  • Get a vehicle history check. A vehicle history report (VHR) will give you information on the car’s ownership history, mileage, and any accidents or repairs that have been reported. This can be an invaluable tool in spotting a clocked car.
  • Take the car to a mechanic. Before buying any used car, it’s always a good idea to take it to a trusted mechanic for an inspection. They’ll be able to spot any signs that the car has been in an accident or had its odometer rolled back.
  • Check for mismatched tires. As we mentioned earlier, one sign of a clocked car is mismatched tires. If the car you’re looking at has new tires but a low odometer reading, that’s a red flag.
  • Be wary of low prices. If the price of the car you’re looking at seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be especially wary of cars that are priced significantly below similar models.
  • Do your research. Before buying any used car, make sure to do your research. Know what the fair market value is for the model you’re interested in and be aware of common scams, like odometer fraud.

If you’re looking to buy a used car, be sure to follow these tips to protect yourself from buying a clocked car.

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