Car clocking - how much of a problem is it?

As car clocking creates headlines again this week, we look at how much of a problem the practice is in the UK...

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Darren Moss
31 March 2016

Car clocking - how much of a problem is it?

Car clocking is in the news this week, as research by a national newspaper has suggested that firms are offering to reduce the mileage of an older car so it can be sold for more money.

The practice of altering a car’s mileage, known as ‘clocking’, can be done for legitimate reasons, for example when a car’s odometer needs to be changed. However, an investigation by The Sun newspaper found that some mechanics are willing to deliberately lower a car’s mileage for as little as £40.

While it is illegal to sell a car while knowing that the milage has been altered and failing to declare it, but there is a legal grey area concerning firms which clock a car’s mileage, as the practice is difficult to prove as fraud.

The European Union has already pledged to outlaw companies which offer mileage-altering services by May 2018, but the Government has also no pledged to put a stop to the practice of car clocking.

A Government spokesman confirmed that it would be “looking into this matter. Clocking with intent to sell is a criminal offence and any suspect breaches should be passed on to Trading Standards to investigate.”

On older cars with mechanical odometers, the process of altering a car’s mileage can be simple, but the introduction of digital odometers on modern vehicles was designed to make the mileage of a car harder to alter. However, technicians are still able to gain access to a car’s mileage by connecting a laptop to the car.

While one of the main circumstances in which an owner would want to roll the mileage back on their car would be to do sell it, there is a rising number of cases involving PCP contract cars, as the rate a driver pays depends on how many miles they do.

Speaking to What Car? Trading Standards officer Tim Milsom said: “we believe the growing popularity of private car leasing has lead to an increase in car clocking.

“Some unscrupulous owners that go over their mileage allowances would rather adjust the odometer than pay additional feels. It’s a particular problem for newer cars, less than three years old, that do no yet require MOTs where a car’s mileage must be recorded.

“Knowingly selling a clocked car is already an offence, but any new regulations should outlaw the practice itself as well as the required equipment.”

Vehicle history checking company HPI says there could be as many as 1.7 million used cars on UK roads with fraudulent mileages. The company says a three-door Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec from 2012 is worth £4795 with an odometer reading of 90,000 miles, but its value rises by £1655 to £6430 with 30,000 miles on the clock.

The safety implications of clocking a car’s mileage, especially on more modern vehicles, are far reaching. Most modern cars rely on the odometer to warn drivers when their car needs to be surfaced. If the car’s mileage has been clocked, drivers would be unaware if they are missing a crucial service interval.

Consumers currently have some protection thanks to the 2006 Fraud Act, which states that it is illegal to mis-represent a car you are selling, with the purpose of financial gain.