Can You Turn A Replacement Odometer Backwards?
Rolling back an odometer is a dirty trick pretty much every car owner knows about. Even Hollywood has portrayed it in movies. You can see the most notable cases in the movies Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Matilda:
- In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris and Cameron take Cameron's dad’s prized Ferrari out for a joy ride. They rack up 316 miles on the car. Cameron freaks out, and then Ferris tries to roll back the odometer. He does this by having the car up on blocks and running the car in reverse. Spoiler: that does not end well.
- In Matilda, Matilda’s father reveals that he’s a crooked car salesman. He shows Matilda how he scams his customers by rolling back the odometer with a power drill.
Are you wondering if you could follow in Ferris’ or Matilda’s father’s footsteps? Do you want to know if you can roll back the odometer on your car? You can, but it doesn’t mean that you should. Like Matilda pointed out to her father, it’s illegal.
You Can Do This On Older Cars, But Not Newer Cars
If you’ve ever seen the Ferris Bueller scene, you may have thought that Ferris was an idiot for thinking that his plan would work. But the thing is, you could have pulled it off back in the old days! But only for some cars. Even back then, the odometer on some vehicles was designed to only go forward.
But some older cars used mechanical odometers that could turn forward or backwards. It depended on which way the gears were designed. That means you could turn back the odometer by putting your car in reverse and spinning the wheels for miles. Unfortunately, people did that back in the old days to scam car buyers. Popular Science actually covered this in their January 1961 issue. They called this scam “probably the biggest fraud in America”. In fact, 80%-90% of used cars sold during that period had their odometers altered. So it’s safe to say that Popular Science's assessment was correct. Their article does a good job explaining why odometer fraud can be so dangerous for the driver.
So Ferris was actually onto something. The thing is, Ferrari knew better than to let that happen with their cars. They designed their odometers to prevent rollbacks. That’s why Ferris wasn’t able to roll back the odometer on his dad’s Ferrari.
In the 70s and 80s, other automakers started doing the same thing. Eventually, automakers switched to electronic odometers. Modern electronic odometers are impossible to roll back as well.
Turning Back A Replacement Odometer Is Illegal
It’s against the law to turn back the odometer with the intent to deceive others into believing that the vehicle has fewer miles than it actually does. This post has more information on the legality of rolling back an odometer.
If you try this, you will likely get caught and face legal repercussions. To be more specific, the court may order you to pay a $1,500 fine or treble damages, whichever is greater. You would also need to pay for a lawyer, if you decide to seek representation.
There Are Ways For People To Find Out That You Committed Odometer Fraud
People may have been able to get away with odometer fraud in the 1960s. But not today. There are easy ways for dealerships and even car buyers to discover odometer fraud. All they need to do is either:
- Read the mileage off the vehicle computer (ECU or BCM); it cannot be altered
- Compare the mileage on the odometer to the mileage on vehicle inspection records or CARFAX vehicle history report
If you plan to deceive someone by rolling back the odometer, we urge you not to do it. You will get in trouble, not to mention that it's a morally wrong thing to do.