Faulty Odometers

Faulty Odometers - 3/21/08

Jeff: Earlier this week, Channel 3 News reported on the case of a woman who became the victim of odometer fraud. She bought a used Ford Taurus for $1800. After the car broke down, she was shocked to learn that it actually had 120,000 miles more than what the odometer read. Unfortunately, this case is not unique. Here to arm you with the facts that will put you in the driver's seat when you buy a used car is attorney Michael Solomon.

Jeff: Mike, when you buy a car from a dealer or from another individual, how do you verify the mileage?

Mike: Check the back of the title (bring sample?). The Ohio Odometer Rollback and Disclosure Act requires the seller to state the correct mileage on the back of the title. If the seller knows that the mileage stated on the odometer is not correct, the seller must state on the auto title either that the mileage is in excess of mechanical limits, which means that the odometer has gone past the maximum mileage, 99,999, and is now starting over again, or that the odometer reading is not the actual mileage, perhaps because it stopped working and did not record all the mileage.

You should also go on the internet web sites like carfax.com, because these might have information on the car you are thinking of buying. You might also contact one or more of the prior owners listed on the title, to ask about the mileage at the time they sold the car; you might also get other information, like whether the car was ever in an accident.

Jeff: Mike let's say you bought a car from a car dealer or from an individual and they didn't admit on the back of the title that the odometer reading is wrong, but it really is. What can you do?

Mike: The Odometer Rollback and Disclosure Act is meant to protect people so they don't buy cars which have more mileage than they thought.

The law provides that if a seller knew, or should have known, that the odometer was wrong, and didn't tell you, that seller is in violation of Ohio laws and could be committing a criminal felony. In addition, you could sue the seller of the automobile for the greater of three times your damages or $1500. Additionally, you can be reimbursed for attorneys fees. Finally, if the court feels that the seller's actions were fraudulent, you could receive punitive damages to punish the seller.

Your damages could be significant. A car with more miles is less valuable. And courts do not like sellers who commit odometer fraud. There is one case where an auto dealer was held liable not only for triple damages and attorneys fees but an additional $100,000 in punitive damages.

Jeff: What happens if you buy the car and drive it for a year or two before you discover the odometer had been turned back.

Mike: You can still sue the seller. Ohio law gives you two years from the date you discover the problem, or should have discovered the problem, to sue the prior owner.

But when you go to sell the car, you must inform the next buyer of the correct mileage, even if you did not roll back the odometer. Otherwise, the person buying your car can hold you liable even though it was the prior owner who caused the problem.