On older cars, there were certain tell-tale signs that an odometer had been tampered with, but changes made by computer systems are invisible to the naked eye. So here are some other things to watch out for:

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  • Check the mileage on old MoT certificates and the service history. This will become easier when the DVLA takes its services digital next month.
  • Stone chips on a car’s nose can indicate lots of motorway journeys and imply high mileage.
  • Be wary of worn pedal rubbers or a shiny steering wheel. Watch out for seat and seatbelt wear, too.
  • If it’s an older car with a nearly new gear lever, seat covers or pedals, it might be hiding its true mileage.
  • Get a history check; this confirms the car against the national mileage database.
  • Ask the previous owner what mileage was when they sold the car – use details on V5C.

An analysis of 2.5 million vehicles has found the BMW X5 to be the most commonly clocked car, with Vauxhall’s Combo van the most frequently clocked vehicle.

Researchers ran a vast set of vehicle mileages from the Government’s MoT database through their own custom software and determined 160,430 (6.41 per cent) had mileage discrepancies.

But some vehicles were far more likely than others to have suspicions mileages, with 13.6 per cent of the 6,507 Vauxhall Combo vans analysed showing discrepancies, and 12.99 per cent of the 43,000 tested Ford Transits failing the analysis.

Turning to cars, 11.71 per cent of the 7,531 analysed BMW X5s showed mileage discrepancies, with the Vauxhall Vectra being next most problematic (11.58 per cent), and 11.38 per cent of Peugeot 206s failing mileage checks.

With 38.7 million vehicles registered in the UK, this research indicates as many as 2.48 million could have been clocked.

The work was carried out by vehicle history checking company Rapid Car Check, which offers a free tool that checks a vehicle’s mileage against MoT records. Earlier in the year, the company checked 1milllion mileage records and found 6.49% displayed mileage discrepancies – a figure corroborated by their latest, more comprehensive analysis.

Further credence to the research can be found in work carried out by HPI in November, which estimated there are 2.3 million cars in the UK.

It is illegal to sell a car without disclosing known mileage discrepancies, but it is not illegal to adjust a vehicle’s odometer mileage. The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, has previously called for a ban on DIY ‘mileage correction’ tools, which can be bought online from about £100.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, described clocking as “a rising major fraud, which not only rips off motorists but can have dangerous implications”.

He advised buyers of used cars to “make thorough checks to ensure that the vehicle is showing its true mileage and that its service history and MOT certificate are accurate”.

Blackburn added that clocking is “tarnishing the reputation of honest used car dealers and sellers”, warning that “councils won’t hesitate to bring any car dealer or private seller to justice who shows a blatant disregard for safety and consumer rights”.

Top 10 most commonly clocked vehicles

Make & Model Total Failed Total Checked Fail Rate
VAUXHALL COMBO 856 6507 13.16%
FORD TRANSIT 5598 43098 12.99%
BMW X5 882 7531 11.71%
VAUXHALL VECTRA 1811 15639 11.58%
PEUGEOT 206 1391 12227 11.38%
FORD TRANSIT CONNECT 1087 9828 11.06%
FIAT PUNTO 1331 12755 10.44%
RENAULT CLIO 2545 27257 9.34%
RENAULT MEGANE 1368 15293 8.95%

Car clocking: prosecutions out of step with incidents

Local councils have brought just 140 prosecutions for car clocking in the last five years, a series of Freedom of Information requests have revealed.

Local councils have responsibility for policing the problem, but one in five has failed to bring a single prosecution since 2012, while one in three has investigated less than one a year. Of the 140 prosecutions brought, just 117 resulted in a conviction, with around 1,300 cars being involved in the cases.

Those figures – obtained by the Times via a series of Freedom of Information requests – are in stark contrast to research by car history company HPI, which found that in 2016 one in 16 cars had an illegally-altered mileage reading – up from one in 20 in 2014. That equates to roughly 2.3million cars in the UK displaying incorrect mileage, meaning an estimated 0.065 per cent of cases were successfully taken to court.

The figures suggest that as many as 2.3 million cars on the road in the UK now displaying incorrect mileage on their odometer and HPI estimates the practice is costing drivers over £800 million a year. One of the reasons for the rise in car clocking is the increasing popularity of car finance. Personal Contract Purchases (PCP) and Personal Contract Hire (PCH) deals often come with strict mileage limits, where each additional mile can be charged as much as 30p. This has led to some owners turning to ‘mileage correction’ firms that offer to dial back the odometer to dodge the financial penalties.

Another reason for the rise is said to be the fact that the practice has been made easier as more cars are fitted with digital odometers. That’s allowed mileage correction companies to start-up, offering services to alter your mileage if your read-out gets corrupted.

Barry Shorto, head of industry relations at CAP HPI, said: “There are numerous reasons why clocking is on the up. The continued development of technologies to alter digital odometers, increasingly easy access to this technology via the internet and similarly, the ease of access to mileage adjustment services online, some of whom will behave legitimately, others less so.

“The increase in mileage-related finance arrangements such as PCP and PCH may also be a contributing factor.”

Is car mileage correction legal?

Penalties already exist in the UK to ensure dealers do not sell clocked cars and regulations dictate if a private seller knowingly sells on a clocked car they must disclose this to any potential buyer.

The European Parliament has now gone a step further and announced a complete ban on firms that offer to wind back the mileage on cars and other road vehicles. A Czech motoring organisation – an equivalent to the AA – pushed for the clampdown.

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said: “The directive explicitly stipulates that if the odometer is found to have been manipulated with the aim of reducing or misrepresenting the distance record of a vehicle the Member State shall ensure that appropriate penalties are in place. Consequently, the Commission considers that offering services linked to the manipulation of the tachometer cannot be considered as a legal activity.”

Car clocking: we investigate

While Business Minister Anna Soubry has now said the Government would finally look at taking action on car clocking, Auto Express had already investigated the issue to see if companies were acting within the law and how easy it was to get mileage altered. We found five mileage correction companies online, operating in various parts of the country, and contacted them about getting the mileage changed on our car.

Their responses varied. Some told us they’d need documentation to show the actual mileage before they could alter the mileage on our car; others said they’d take our word for it. However, all were in agreement: what they were doing wasn’t illegal. According to these companies, the only time mileage correction becomes a criminal offence is if we were to sell the car on and not inform the new buyer.

Gerry Taylor, lead officer for the motor trade at the Trading Standards Institute, said the law wasn’t quite as straightforward as that. Under the Consumer Regulation Act, people can be prosecuted for clocking if it can be proven they’re traders and they knew the vehicle was going to be sold for financial gain.

Mileage correction companies may get customers to sign a disclaimer to say they understand it’s a criminal offence to resell without informing the new owner, but Taylor doubted whether such a document would stand up in court – although this has never been tested.

The 2006 Fraud Act also provides protection to buyers. It states that if you alter goods or services and misrepresent or deceive people for financial gain or profit, you’re committing a crime. This isn’t just confined to traders, either, and can be applied to private sellers. “There are very few instances where mileage can be altered legally,” said Taylor.

“I can only think of one: when the odometer breaks. And if that happens, you’d take it to a dealership where it would be recorded and logged properly. Safeguards are in place to show everything is above board. But these companies don’t do that and there’s little or no paperwork. If mileage is altered for other reasons, criminal offences are committed.”

So why might someone clock a car and run the risk of being caught? Shane Teskey, senior consumer services manager at HPI, talked us through the three main situations in which an owner would want to change their mileage.

The most obvious – and most common – is to roll the clock back to get more on a sale. HPI research has found popular models such as the Volkswagen Golf can double in value if they have 60,000 miles wound down.

Teskey added: “There’s also been a significant rise in Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) cars, and these finance plans are based on the number of miles you’re going to do. If you’re coming towards the end of an agreement, and you’ve gone over, you might see clocking as a way of avoiding an excess mileage charge.”

The final reason for clocking, according to Teskey, involves moving the mileage forward – but still with the aim of making a profit. Many large companies operate an authorised mileage allowance scheme for staff. Employees are paid for using their own car, and some may claim they’ve covered 20,000 miles a year having only done 15,000 miles. When your company asks to see your odometer, getting it clocked can save the day.

But what’s the problem with bending the truth a little? Teskey pointed out the risks. “Everyone focuses on clocking being an innocent crime, but it’s a serious problem,” he explained. “Not only is it costing motorists millions of pounds by overpaying for clocked cars, the safety implications are very serious.

“Most modern cars rely on mileage to give an indication of what to service and when parts need changing. Plus, when somebody clocks a car, they only modify the read-out, but most modern vehicles have lots of modules and 10 per cent record your mileage. When you interfere with one, it creates a conflict between the others. It’ll show up if someone plugs a diagnostic tool in and would void a manufacturer warranty.”

With the obvious dangers and the legal grey area, why hasn’t anything been done to make it clearer? In 2012, the Office of Fair Trading made representation to the Government to either license or ban mileage correction services, but as yet, nothing has been done.

Trading Standards’ Taylor said: “We would still support the regulation or banning of mileage correction companies, and from my point of view I would ban them because I cannot see a legitimate reason they should be needed.”

HPI’s Teskey agreed: “We’d like mileage correction banned. If there is a genuine reason to have it reconfigured, it should be done by a main dealer.”