Connected cars to snuff out spread of ‘car clocking’ fraud

Motor trade analyst Glass’s has said clocking, the winding back of a car’s recorded mileage, has returned to the second hand car market decades after it had virtually died out.

But this time the culprits are the owners, or leasers, and the victims are the dealers innocently trading in vehicles that have been clocked without their knowledge.

Glass’s says the practice today happens mostly where drivers exceed the contracted number of miles on fixed mileage leases, such as a personal contract purchase (PCP) finance deal, and want to avoid an excess mileage penalty charge, possibly running into thousands of pounds, when the vehicle is returned.

Drivers are increasingly turning to mileage adjustment companies using specialist equipment to artificially reduce the number of miles shown on the odometer.  And, because most of the vehicles involved have been supplied new and are less than three years old, there is no MOT certificate and often only one service stamp, so the paper trail doesn't reveal that the mileage has been tampered with.

Yet these companies can trade legally and openly because digital mileage monitors can get corrupted in the vehicle’s EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) following battery failure, dashboard instrument breakdown or accidental damage. On top of this, the companies can also reset service interval indicators through the OBD II socket to keep service warnings "in-sync" with odometer readings. However, if the owner does not reveal to the leasing company or another new owner that mileage has been altered, then that a criminal act.

Rupert Pontin, head of valuations at Glass's, said: "Some drivers facing a PCP returns charge may consider clocking as an easy way of avoiding payment but their actions are illegal.

"The issue tends to come to light when the car is prepared for sale either by the original dealer or another who has subsequently bought the car, probably at auction. When they plug the vehicle into their diagnostic rig as part of their standard vehicle preparation procedure and, depending on the model, an error code will show what has occurred.

"This places the dealer in a very difficult position because it is next to impossible to prove when the clocking took place. It is often too late to take any action against the driver because the PCP returns paperwork has already been processed and, anyway, they will usually just deny that they have clocked the car."

But Pontin said this commercial headache could be consigned to history with the expansion of internet connectivity as a standard feature on new cars coming to market. Vauxhall has already announced its OnStar service will be installed as standard across all models released later this year and PSA Peugeot Citroen’s extension of its partnership with IBM should increase its dominance as Europe’s largest supplier of connected cars.

Pontin explained: “In the short term dealing with the issue of clocking must focus on better record keeping and having the right systems and processes in place at the de-fleet stage, to ensure this is identified and dealt with at the correct stage.

 “Longer term, with better telematics and vehicles being connected to the internet and workplace, this practice can be reduced, if not eradicated completely, as mileage can be recorded and monitored throughout the contract period. However, a longer term solution will need to address personal data protection issues.”

But, for the moment, there was no easy answer to the problem, Pontin said, although closer regulation of mileage adjustment companies was one potential route.

He said: "While we have no reason to believe that the majority of operators are anything other than ethical, there do appear to be at least a few who will reduce your mileage without asking many questions.

"One solution is for dealers to check vehicles for clocking as part of their standard PCP returns procedure. This would effectively ‘prove' that the vehicle had been clocked during the contract period, placing the onus on the driver for what is, after all, a form of fraud and quite a serious crime."

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *