Turning Back Time on Clocking

HPI warns used car buyers to protect themselves against fraudsters

This month marks the end of British Summer Time and, as we turn the clocks back, vehicle information expert, HPI, reminds used car buyers to watch out for unscrupulous sellers turning the clocks back on their mileage readings. Known as ‘clocking’, it not only adds false value to a vehicle, but it could add to the longer term running costs of the vehicle as it might have more wear and tear than the buyer realises. With more than 600,000 clocked vehicles estimated to be on the UK’s roads*, it signifies a huge threat to used car buyers.

“Car ‘clocking’ involves altering a vehicle’s mileage and is often done by dishonest used car sellers wanting to hike up a car’s value,” says Nicola Johnson, Consumer Services Manager of HPI. “Winding back just 1,000 miles on a car can add an estimated £100-£400 to its value, so a seller would only need to take 2,000 miles off a £2,000 car to almost double its value – offering a profit many unscrupulous sellers can’t resist. 6 out of every 100 vehicles checked by HPI show a mileage discrepancy, showing that clocking is a more common occurrence than consumers might like to believe. Recent years have seen dodgy sellers come up with new methods of clocking, so it’s harder than ever to identify a tampered car by simply looking at it.”

In the past, older vehicles had a simple mechanical odometer, which criminals could easily remove and literally turn back the miles with a screwdriver. This process would generally leave tell-tale signs, such as a small amount of damage or poorly aligned screws that could indicate that a car’s mileage had been tampered with. Modern vehicles are fitted with digital odometers, which can be quickly and simply altered with the use of   diagnostic mileage correction software, readily available on the internet and which leaves no trace of interference.

Furthermore, HPI has seen a rise in ‘mileage correction’ companies, offering their services to ‘correct’ – or alter – a vehicle’s mileage, without asking too many questions. Whilst altering a car’s mileage is not illegal itself, not declaring that mileage change to a potential buyer is illegal, but this doesn’t stop dishonest vendors who see clocking as a victimless crime and an easy way to make some extra cash. The OFT investigated the issue in 2010, and found there were very few legitimate reasons to alter a vehicle’s mileage and called for mileage correction companies to be regulated or even banned. However, there are still around 50 active companies of this type in the UK.

Johnson continues, “As in-car technology has moved on, so have the criminals, with clocking becoming even easier to do, and harder to trace. Where there used to be small signs people could look out for, there is now very little to go on. Now, more than ever, used car buyers need to keep their wits about them and use services like the HPI Check to identify a mileage discrepancy and in turn protect themselves against clocking.”

The HPI Check draws upon HPI’s National Mileage Register (NMR), which is adopted as standard by leading motor retailers and manufacturers.  It contains over 130 million mileage records, giving buyers extra assurance that a vehicle checked by HPI has not been clocked. With access to more vehicle information than anybody else, HPI also confirms the vehicle description, whether it is currently recorded as stolen, been written-off by an insurance company, has had a plate change or is subject to outstanding finance. The HPI Check offers a financial guarantee in the event of the information it provides being inaccurate, offering added peace of mind to used car buyers.

“As the clocks go back this autumn, we urge used car buyers to conduct an HPI Check to ensure the vehicle hasn’t had the miles turned back by clockers. As well as increasing the chance of paying more than the vehicle is worth, buyers also run the risk of purchasing a vehicle which may have missed significant service intervals. Failure to change a timing belt or other important components could lead to serious mechanical failures, and could represent a major safety issue if the engine fails whilst at speed. An HPI Check comes with a mileage check as standard to help buyers avoid paying over the odds for a vehicle that may have more wear and tear than they realise, making it a potentially dangerous purchase.”

• Check the service history – Check the mileages displayed in the service history and look for service stamps from a genuine dealer.  Ideally the service invoices will accompany the service history. If in doubt, contact the servicing dealers and check the mileages they recorded at the time of the service.
• Speak to the previous keeper – Get in contact with the previous keeper (details can be found on the V5/logbook). They can identify the mileage of the vehicle when they sold it.  Make sure this adds up with the current mileage.
• Trust your judgement – Check who the car was last registered to on the V5.  Was it registered as a company car but has done less than 12,000 miles per year?  Or is it 15 years old with only 20,000 on the clock? Look for any evidence that indicates clocking.
• Check the mileage – It has been known for clockers to wind back the mileage when you first view the vehicle and then return it to its original value once the transaction is complete.  Make sure you check the mileage is the same when you pick up the vehicle.
• Look for signs of wear and tear – Does the wear and tear on the vehicle match its mileage?  Be careful to look out for signs such as worn seats, steering wheels and other vehicle parts.  Also look out for brand new easily replaceable parts; the wear and tear should be consistent with the vehicle’s displayed mileage.
• Conduct an HPI Check – HPI’s National Mileage Register has over 130 million mileages recorded on it, and can identify mileage discrepancies recorded against the vehicle.

*Many of these signs could be innocent, so look for more than one of the above as possible evidence of clocking