Three year investigation into car clocking by Angry Policyholders raises serious questions as to why the act of clocking vehicles hasn’t been made a criminal offence
For the past three years AngryPolicyholders.com has undertaken a major investigation into car clocking, an epidemic that is spreading across the UK at an alarming rate. The investigation, codenamed Operation Pandora is not a new problem or one that has not raised serious concerns within the industry or by consumer groups over the past decade or so.
In fact, the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) has investigated the problem previously, both in 2010 and 2012. In 2010, the OFT stated that the estimated potential loss to consumers from illegal car clocking to be up to £580m per year, a figure which has now increased nearly 35 per cent in the last five years to an estimated £800m in 2015.
As car clocking increases in the UK, gone are the days where winding the mileage back was predominantly associated with unscrupulous car dealers who passed off high-mileage vehicles as low mileage to make a fast buck. Today you are more likely to be a victim of car clocking if you buy a used vehicle from members of the public or businesses who run a fleet of vehicles and according to the vehicle checking service HPICheck.com, latest statistics show you have a 1 in 20 chance of buying a vehicle with a mileage discrepancy. This is because car clocking has evolved over the past few years thanks in part to a combination of technology, low mileage leasing and PCP contracts.
The problem is so wide-spread that whilst researching clocking in the vast majority of cases the sources we have spoken to claim to either know somebody personally or know a business that are clocking vehicles whilst taking advantage of ‘low mileage’ private or business PCP or leasing agreements.
Research conducted by AngryPolicyholders.com also shows businesses and members of the public are now clocking vehicles on an industrial scale, specifically targeting vehicles within the first three years of their life. Our research has uncovered vehicles across the UK with an estimated 100 million miles missing from their odometers, but one of the biggest frustrations throughout our investigation was the misconception by the public that clocking a car is not illegal, is a victimless crime, or – and this left The APH Team speechless – funny!
Having witnessed first-hand victims who have spent thousands of pounds on a vehicle believing it to be low mileage when in reality it has had seventy five percent of its mileage removed is far from funny or victimless. These innocent consumers have purchased a vehicle with a fake history that is also potentially unsafe and can be worth only a fraction of the purchase price. Finally, and in the vast majority of these cases, vehicles has been purchased via a finance agreement that they cannot terminate, resulting in consumers having to repay substantially more than the vehicles’ real value.
An advance in technology has played a crucial role for the growth in car clocking – specifically electronic odometers. Members of the public or businesses can easily access either ‘mileage correction services’ that will alter odometers mileages; no questions asked for as little as £50 a time or, for a one off fee of around £200 can purchase themselves a DIY kit off the internet.
With regards to ‘mileage correction services’ it is interesting that the OFT following a market study stated that their belief that legitimate instances of mileage adjustment appear to be rare, and were unlikely to be sufficient to keep in business the number of traders openly offering ‘mileage correction services’ throughout the UK. However, during an online sweep by the OFT in the summer of 2012 it identified 71 websites offering mileage correction services in the UK, yet the services are still legal!
When you consider the scale of illegal car clocking, the safety ramifications and the cost to UK economy estimated to be over a billion pounds a year, it raises the question: why hasn’t the act itself of car clocking been made illegal and a criminal offence along with the banning of ‘mileage correction services’?
Not only has Angry Policyholders targeted the individuals and businesses allegedly clocking vehicles, but we have also investigated ‘mileage correction services’ and the garages knowingly or unknowingly selling on these vehicles. Also, due to the sheer scale of the problem we have also investigated a number of financial institutions financing or leasing vehicles along with franchised dealerships who arrange PCP and leasing contracts. Our findings are shocking and we believe show catastrophic failings within the industry to tackle car clocking head-on and that these failings only encourage the problem.
The passenger transport industry is being targeted by unscrupulous operators or individuals who are jeopardising the lives of their passengers to take advantage of low mileage leasing and financing agreements.
Car clocking results in tampering with vehicles electronics which has serious safety implications, whether using a DIY kit or employing the services of a ‘mileage correction service’ resulting in ramifications far beyond a false mileage reading. Around 10% of all the modules in a modern car, such as the airbag, ABS and ignition, feed information into the central ECU system, and each time an event occurs – such as a faulty airbag warning – a ‘snapshot’ of the vehicle’s mileage will be recorded on these modules.
Therefore, unless a vehicle’s mileage is wound back by a particularly ‘diligent’ and skilled clocker who alters the mileage readings on all potentially affected modules in addition to the odometer, these will be out of sync, leading to issues with safety warnings – and potentially legal cases in the event of an accident.
Shane Teskey, senior consumer services manager for HPI, explains: ‘Serious problems can be caused within a vehicle. Firstly, there is the potential to miss important servicing and warning light indicators, as the car’s various different components will be reading different mileages.’
Mr Teskey continued: ‘By changing the mileage, a clocker will actually be causing conflicts within the cars electronics and interfering with the normal routines for servicing and repair. In addition, a manufacturer’s warranty is likely to be void if the car is discovered to have been clocked.’
Chris Hargreaves, consumer campaigner, founder of Angry Policyholders and freelance investigative journalist goes further, stating: ‘Mr Teskey highlights some very good points in relation to the subsequent issues in relation to car clocking, however, we would go even further.
‘Clocking a vehicle to defraud leasing companies or PCP contracts results in many criminal offences being committed and vary depending whether the act is carried out by a company or individual. For example, in all cases insurance would be void and if a claim is made against a vehicle that has been clocked would result in insurance fraud being committed. The implications would even extend to drivers or passengers who could find themselves uninsured in the event of an accident, with drivers prosecuted for no insurance and passengers having to make an injury claim as if the vehicle had no insurance.’
Mr Hargreaves concluded: ‘It is also worth pointing out that even though it may not be illegal yet to physically clock a vehicle, you do commit a number of criminal offences by knowingly setting out to alter the mileage with no genuine reason to do.’
Mechanics also highlighted to Angry Policyholders that where vehicles have been repeatedly clocked throughout their life it is highly likely that a clocked car will come with a fake service history. For consumers who have unknowingly bought a clocked car it will be impossible to know when crucial components on the vehicle need changing.
For example, you may purchase a vehicle which has 20,000 miles on the clock when in reality it should have 80,000. The cam belt on this example needs changing at 90,000 miles, but whilst driving down a motorway at 70mph in the outside lane with 40,000 on the odometer the belt snaps and leaves you in a potentially dangerous situation and a ruined engine which could cost thousands of pounds to repair or replace.
But the most shocking finding of all throughout our three year investigation is the allegations that companies and individuals operating within the passenger transport industry are clocking vehicles on an unprecedented scale. The very fact that anyone providing a transportation service to the public would risk the lives of their clients by clocking vehicles should raise serious concerns with regulators and the public.
Due to the overwhelming evidence we have obtained over the last three years we took the decision to share our evidence with government agencies and third parties to help raise our concerns and help bring prosecutions against those we believe are clocking vehicles within the passenger transport industry.
Chris Hargreaves, who has led the investigation stated: ‘Car clocking is not a victimless crime and results in serious safety ramifications for consumers who innocently buy these seriously compromised vehicles.
‘Having investigated all aspects of car clocking it is clear that this a major problem across the UK that is only increasing year on year. The most shocking part of the investigations was when we were told that the passenger transport industry was using clocking as a way of gaining an unfair commercial advantage and abusing ‘low mileage’ leasing agreements to obtain significantly cheaper leasing contracts.’
Mr Hargreaves continued: ‘There seems to be a growing will to ban ‘mileage correction services’ in the UK and pressure is being applied to government to make the act of tampering with or altering an odometer a criminal offence, but so far all attempts have failed to persuade the UK government to act.’
The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport from the Irish government told Angry Policyholders: ‘This issue had been under discussion for some time. In the course of passage of the Road Traffic Act 2014, the then Minister decided that there was a gap in the legislation as it currently stood, and therefore the Minister introduced the what is now section 14 of the 2014 Act.’
The spokesperson for the Irish government continued: ‘Under section 14 of the Irish Road Traffic Act 2014, which came into effect as of 20 March 2014, has made it an offence to interfere or attempt to interfere with the odometer of a mechanically propelled vehicle. Previously, Ireland had dealt with clocking through the Consumer Protection Act 2007, as part of misleading commercial practices.
While there have been successful prosecutions against car dealerships for selling or offering the sale of motor vehicles in Ireland with altered odometer readings – clocked cars – under that law, it didn’t apply in cases of private sales, and did not make the act of clocking a vehicle in itself an offence.’
Which raises the question: If the Irish can do it, why can’t the Brits?
Over the coming weeks and months we will start to expose our findings which will highlight just how serious the problem of car clocking is in the UK. We have worked tirelessly over the last three years to uncover the companies and individuals behind car clocking as well as uncovering the flaws and failures within the industry.
Notes to editors.
Operation Pandora is a three year investigation into car clocking in the UK, specifically targeting financial institutions, vehicle manufacturers, ‘mileage correction services’, franchised and non-franchised dealerships and individuals and businesses allegedly clocking vehicles.
Research conducted shows an estimated 100 million miles removed from vehicles across the UK over a ten year period between 2005 and 2015.
The passenger transport industry was investigated following concerns by industry insiders and employees who raised safety and insurance concerns in relation to alleged clocked vehicles being used to carry members of the public.
Operation Pandora has been conducted with the assistance of The APH Team, government agencies and third parties who specialise in vehicle fraud, car clocking and subsequent offences committed when illegally clocking vehicles.
Angry Policyholders was founded in 2009, after insurance company Scottish Provident refused to pay out on an income protection claim to our founder Chris Hargreaves, even though he was bedbound in hospital for three months. Since 2013, Chris and Nicola Hargreaves have helped consumers reclaim over £250,000 after being refused insurance claims or suffered a financial loss.
Chris Hargreaves is the founder of AngryPolicyholders.com, a consumer campaigner and freelance investigative journalist specialising in complex consumer and criminal cases. Nicola Hargreaves has a background in financial services and the banking industry enabling her to bring expertise to cases and investigations.