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Many affordable used cars found to have rolled-back odometers

Posted: 1:17 PM, Oct 26, 2016
Updated: 2016-10-26 20:17:46Z

As the cost of living in Southern California increases, more people might try to save a buck by buying a used car, but consumers are advised to make sure they know what they're getting.

According to Carfax, California leads the country with the number of odometer rollbacks, and San Diego has the sixth-highest percentage of rolled back cars.

San Diego area resident Jorge Parra sees the value in used vehicles. When he spotted the perfect one for sale online, he got it.

"Paid $5,600 for it," Parra said.

A few miles on the odometer didn't bother Parra, who added, "It only had 85,000 miles."

The SUV Parra ended up with wasn't the first one he looked at. He said he checked out a few he found online, including one where the mileage seemed too good to be true.

"The odometer said it had 102,000," he said. "He (the seller) said it had 102,000."

Parra said he took the SUV for a test drive, popped the hood and knew something was off.

"I could tell, because I've worked on [Mercedes] MLs, that it had more than 100,000 miles," he said. "I shut the hood and said, 'You know what? I'm going to go home and run a Carfax on this.'"

It turned out the SUV's odometer should've read much more.

"Obviously, he had a rollback situation and it was fraud," Parra told Team 10. "I think people need to be careful."

"They try to gain a profit from the buyer," said DMV Investigations Area Commander Paul Smith. "Nowadays, with everything being digital, it's just a matter of fact of them using computer systems themselves to roll back the odometers."

According to the DMV, its Investigations Division watches over consumer protection for auto- and identity related fraud, car dealers, driving schools, traffic violator schools and other DMV occupational licensees, as well as internal affairs investigations.

Smith said in some cases, the scammers just switch out the old odometer cluster for a new one.

"They aren't changing how the mechanism records it," Smith said. "What they are doing now is changing the actual number."

According to the DMV, there's 200,000 new cases of odometer fraud occurring every year. One-third of all affected vehicles have at least 75,000 miles taken off the odometer.

The California DMV says odometer tampering is illegal under state and federal law. A car can be sold without a functioning odometer, but you have to fill out an odometer disclosure form.

The California DMV suggests taking these steps to prevent from becoming a victim:

-- Compare vehicle mileage and documents: Check mileage readings on titles, prior odometer disclosure statements, warranties, service records, etc., for any discrepancies or signs of alteration. Look for oil change or inspection stickers under the hood or in the door, in addition to warranty documents or service records in the glove box

-- Beware if mileage statements are "unavailable" as dealers are required to keep such records

-- Examine the vehicle for tampering clues: Look for physical signs of tampering, such as scratches or marks on the odometer or face dial, misaligned digits, missing or loose screws, etc.

When an odometer is serviced, repaired or replaced and cannot be adjusted to reflect the true mileage, the odometer must be set to zero. A sticker indicating the true mileage before service must be attached to the left door frame. When the vehicle is sold, the disclosure statement must include the odometer error. Check the tires and other parts of the vehicle to see if the wear and tear corresponds to the mileage being represented. Have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic prior to purchase.

If you think you've been a victim the DMV wants to hear from you at https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/dmv/offices/investigationsoffice .