What Does Odometer Discrepancy Mean? (And How To Fix It)

It’s not unusual for buyers to notice odometer discrepancy when they’re purchasing a used vehicle. But not all of them know how to address it (or how to identify it in the first place). So, what exactly is odometer discrepancy, and how do you fix it?

Odometer discrepancy is a mismatch between the reported mileage of a vehicle and its actual mileage. There are several factors that may cause this, including reporting errors or fraud. Regardless of the reason, you can fix it with the help of your state DMV and vehicle history provider.  

Let’s take a closer look at what odometer discrepancy is, how to spot it, and the best way to legally fix it.

What Does Odometer Discrepancy Mean?

Odometer discrepancy

Odometer discrepancy occurs when your vehicle’s odometer shows inaccurate readings. In this situation, the reported mileage doesn’t match the actual mileage, and it can be difficult for the vehicle’s owner to get a profitable resell. 

Odometer discrepancy often occurs during auctions, where dealers rely on the third party that actually reports the vehicle title. You may also notice odometer discrepancy when you’re buying a used vehicle from a dealer, friend, or colleague.

To better judge the discrepancy, you must run a detailed vehicle report on the vehicle that you intend to buy.

The discrepancy usually indicates possible reporting errors or fraud — but not always. If the vehicle is relatively old, it’s more likely to show odometer discrepancy over time since the odometer may malfunction. 

In such cases, the federal government allows you to get such vehicles tagged as “EXEMPT” on their titles. Exempted vehicles usually include models made in 2010 or earlier.  

What Causes Odometer Discrepancy?

Odometer discrepancy is primarily caused when the vehicle’s odometer malfunctions and the actual mileage has to be guessed. However, some sellers may commit fraud by manually lowering the mileage reading to get a better sale value on the vehicle.

As we mentioned above, older vehicles are more likely to have broken odometers that may result in odometer discrepancy. 

Let’s look at the common causes of odometer discrepancy in detail: 

Incorrect Guesses

Odometer discrepancy often results from incorrect guesses made while reporting mileage on the vehicle title.

Most people don’t bother to actually look at the odometer when recording the running miles. If you don’t take care at this stage, it may badly affect the vehicle resell price, and you may not make a profit from it. 

It’s also illegal to report the wrong mileage value when selling a vehicle, especially if nothing’s wrong with the odometer. 

Seller Fraud

Sellers sometimes do tamper with the odometer, so that the vehicle’s running miles appear lower than they actually are. This is often done to push the buyer into a profitable deal. 

Fortunately, electronic odometers are designed to detect tampering. But fraud is still possible, even in modern vehicles. 

Reporting Errors

Not all discrepancies are fraud. The person or the agency recording the number on the vehicle title may make a reporting error while doing so. This may be a result of human error, reporting machinery malfunctions, or other factors that play a role during the process. 

Faulty or Broken Odometer

A faulty or broken odometer is another common reason behind odometer discrepancy. If the odometer is frozen or isn’t working well, it may not record the mileage correctly when the vehicle is running. 

Some vehicles, especially older ones, are more likely to have faulty odometers, which is why many of them are exempt from odometer checks. 

What Happens When There’s a Mileage Discrepancy?

Car Dashboard

If you’ve a used vehicle and the odometer is faulty or doesn’t work at all, you can still sell the vehicle without knowing the actual odometer reading. 

When there’s a mileage discrepancy, a dealer needs to label the vehicle with “true mileage unknown” before selling. This will prevent lawsuits against the seller.

However, this process isn’t so straightforward. 

The first step dealers have to follow is to reach out to the vehicle history report company and get the error fixed. This must be communicated to the customer at the time of sale via a written disclosure. Getting the disclosure signed by the customer is best.

Finally, the vehicle has to be inspected by a franchise dealer to make sure that it doesn’t show any signs of odometer tampering.

Once this is done, the vehicle can be tagged with “true mileage unknown,” and it can be sold. If you’re buying a vehicle with mileage discrepancy, check that this process has been followed to avoid issues.    

What Is Odometer Fraud?

Odometer fraud is when the reading on an odometer is intentionally changed. 

In this case, when you inspect the vehicle history report, you may find that the discrepancy was not because of an error, but because the third-party seller has actually tempered the odometer readings to make more profit. 

Odometer fraud is more common in older vehicles where the mileage reading can be manually altered.

You should always cross-check the title’s readings and the mileage on the history report with the odometer readings to find out if there’s a discrepancy. 

What Are Common Signs of Odometer Fraud?

While only an expert can catch advanced cases of odometer fraud, there are some signs that tell you the odometer has been tampered with. 

Here are some common signs that may indicate that the third party has committed odometer fraud: 

  • Brand new tires: A typical set of tires run for about 60,000 miles. Question the seller if the vehicle has fewer miles but newer tires.  
  • Scratches on the odometer dashboard: Inspect the odometer dashboard area thoroughly. If it’s scratched, it may indicate that the odometer has been tampered with. Also, look for missing screws and other issues.  
  • Worn-out brakes: If the brakes are old, and the title shows low mileage, this may indicate an odometer discrepancy. 
  • Digit misalignment on the odometer: If the numbers on the odometer are not straight, this may be a sign that the numbers were tempered with. Some electronic odometers are designed to display an asterisk if a discrepancy occurs. 
  • Maintenance documents: Some buyers hesitate to ask for maintenance bills and other records for inspection. However, these records may show mileage on them, which may help you detect the discrepancy.  
  • Wear and tear: Even a well-maintained vehicle typically has some parts that show wear over time. You should carefully check the steering, driving seat, suspension, door strikers, carpets, and other parts to find out if their condition is inconsistent with the vehicle’s age.

You should know that odometer fraud is illegal. If you suspect any fraud, you should immediately report it to your state DMV.  

How to Fix an Odometer Discrepancy

Fixing an odometer discrepancy will save you from lawsuits if you’re planning to sell your vehicle. 

How you fix it will depend on the DMV in the state you’re living in. However, most states allow you to fix odometer discrepancy by: 

Changing the Vehicle’s Title

If you want to change the vehicle title altogether, you’ll need to follow these steps: 

  1. Submit the request to your state DMV for correcting the vehicle title.
  1. Explain the possible reasons for the odometer reading error. Make sure to provide enough evidence. This may include VIN (Vehicle identification number) records, repair bills, or other documents needed to show the real mileage. 
  1. Provide the correct title and pay the DMV title correction fees, as specified by the state department.

Fixing Odometer Discrepancy in a Vehicle History Report

An odometer discrepancy may flag your vehicle history report, making it difficult for you to persuade a potential buyer for more money. Follow these steps to fix this issue: 

  1. Submit the request for fixing the discrepancy to your vehicle history provider.
  1. Clearly mention the VIN number of your vehicle, and also indicate the errors that are showing up. 
  1. Submit the report, and wait for your vehicle history provider to process your request and fix the vehicle history. 

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