The Sun newspaper conducts an undercover investigation into mileage correction services and car clocking in the UK
Earlier this year the European Parliament announced plans to ban mileage correction companies across Europe from May 2018, but in the meantime these companies continue to operate with impunity.
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile claims that 12 per cent of all used car sales across Europe have a mileage discrepancy. The vehicle history checking service HPI claims as many as 1.7 million used cars on UK roads have fraudulent mileage readings.
Clocking can be a very lucrative business for unscrupulous second-hand car dealers. HPI states that a 2012 three-door Ford Fiesta 1.25 Zetec is worth £4795 with an odometer reading of 90,000, but its value rises by £1655 to £6450 with a reduced 30,000 miles on the clock.
The decision to ban mileage correction services, which is long overdue and welcomed by the industry and consumer groups as a whole doesn’t go far enough. Recently The Sun Newspaper conducted an investigation into mileage correction services, including covert footage which showed how these companies alter mileage on a ‘no questions asked’ basis.
There are around 100 mileage correction services in the UK, some of which claim that their service is untraceable and that they provide a confidential service by keeping no records of vehicles they alter. The investigation by The Sun exploited gaps in the law – where mileage can be adjusted but it is illegal to sell the vehicle without informing the buyer – Business Minister, Anna Soubry, has pledged to act to stop car clocking following The Sun exposé.
The investigation by The Sun Newspaper went undercover and hired the services of four mileage correction companies. One of the firms, ABACUS Mileage Correction Services, Essex claims it can “correct” odometers on almost any car with the latest technology and systems. The uncover reporter met the firm’s owner, Elvio, who came out to adjust an Audi A1 in Twickenham, South West London, to clock the mileage by 10,000.
The reporter explained why he wanted it done, Elvio interrupted: “I’m just here to correct it, so you tell me a figure, I put it in. That’s all I want to know – what kind of figure should it be on? What kind of figure do you need?”
In a ten-minute, £120 job he hooked up a piece of computer equipment and digitally reduced the car’s mileage from 43,674 to 33,643, which also changes the reading on the dashboard.
He said: “The service we provide is legal. On our site we say we can only do it for a legal reason. There are loads of legal reasons for correcting mileage. I don’t know what you’re going to do with the car and the day this becomes illegal we would drop the service. We do loads of other stuff.”
The second case involved CAR Diagnostics’, London. Donovan met the reporter on an estate in Walthamstow, East London, and agreed to wind back the mileage by 10,000 for £70 – but had no change, so it ended up costing them £80.
He told how the reduced mileage could not be traced, as he resorted to a second laptop to hack into our car’s computer system. He said: “It’s a token machine – I have to pay charges every time I use it. I only use it for stuff when nothing else will do.”
When asked if we would have any problems selling the car with clocked mileage, he said: “You must know, it’s your car – what do you want to do? You want to tell them? It’s entirely up to you. You can’t ask silly questions, my friend.”
After lowering the Audi A1’s mileage from 33,668 to 23,606 he filmed the dashboard reading as a trophy video of his work, then said: “Tell the world you’ve met the Mad Scientist.”
After it was revealed he had actually clocked a reporters vehicles as part of a Sun investigation, Donovan said: “I didn’t hear what you said you were going to be doing with your car and I’m clear I don’t do it for personal gain. I turn people away and there can be loads of proper reasons for correcting the mileage on a car.
“I’m clear on my website we don’t do it for personal gain. There is nothing saying I should ask questions legally. It’s not up to me, it’s up to the car owner.”
Mileage Changer, Liverpool met the reporter on a B&Q car park off the M62 Motorway. Tom was told by the reporter that he intended to sell his BMW X1 the following week and wanted to knock off around 25,000 miles from the 89,496 on the clock.
He charged £120 to add around £1,000 to the car’s value, saying: “I’ll give you 65,000 or like 64,900.” He then told the uncover reporter he had been working as a mileage “corrector” for 15 years and some weeks could do ten to 20 cars. When the reported revealed his identity, Tom said: “I don’t know why I didn’t ask what the customer was doing with the car on this occasion.
“I turn a lot of people away usually and I’m clear on my website we don’t do it for people’s personal gain but I’ve not done that this time. I will in future.”
Anna Soubry said: “We [the government] will stop it.” A government spokesman said: “The government will look into this matter. Clocking with the intent to sell is a criminal offence and any suspected breaches should be passed on to Trading Standards to investigate.”
Anna Soubry, also stated: “I will look into this, along with my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice and in the Crown Prosecution Service, and we will stop it.”
She described the current state of affairs as an “alarming legal loophole,” in response to an investigation by The Sun into the extent of the problem.
However, not only does car clocking – mileage reduction – impact on used car prices, but by altering the digital reading and tampering with ECU units on vehicles can put other things controlled by the ECU out of sync, raising serious safety implications.
NFDA director Sue Robinson said: “Simply outlawing mileage correction companies by 2018 is not enough. In those three years thousands more cars will be clocked.
Ms Robinson added that the practice hugely compromises the safety of cars on UK roads, including avoiding being serviced.
“A mileage adjustment company is not necessarily the only route for someone who wants to alter their vehicle’s mileage, so a broader zero tolerance stance must be adopted.”
“Often when people think of clocking they get images of Swiss Toni-like car salesmen and suspicious second-hand cars, whereas in reality the problem is much more widespread with people from all walks of life engaging in the practice,” she said.
“Clocking is actually a growing issue and needs to be recognised as a serious crime due to the safety implications it poses to road users.”
The impact of clocking on vehicle values
|MAKE||MODEL||YEAR||RETAIL VALUE AT 30,000 MILES||RETAIL VALUE AT 60,000 MILES||RETAIL VALUE AT 90,000 MILES||IMPACT IF 60,000 MILES ON VALUE|
|Ford||FordFiesta 1.25 (82) Zetec 3 door||2012||£6,450||£5,650||£4,795||£1,655|
|Volkswagen||Golf 1.6 TDI (105) Match 5 door||2012||£9,245||£8,195||£6,875||£2,550|
|Nissan||Qashqai 1.5 dci (110) Tekna 5 door||2012||£12,495||£10,950||£9,575||£2,920|
|Audi||A3 1.6 Tdi S Line 3 door||2012||£12,450||£10,950||£9,650||£2,800|
|Fiat||500 1.2 Lounge 3 door||2012||£5,975||£5,175||£4,795||£1,180|
|Vauxhall||Astra Sports Tourer 1.4i 16V Tech Line 5 door||2012||£7,725||£6,625||£5,752||£2,000|
|Vauxhall||Corsa 1.4 Sxi 5 door||2012||£5,795||£4,995||£4,375||£1,420|
|Nissan||Nissan LEAF 5 door Automatic||2012||£8,475||£7,225||£6,250||£2,225|
|Land Rover||Range Rover Evoque 2.2 SD4 Pure 5 door||2012||£23,250||£21,500||£19,650||£3,600|
|Mazda||MX-5 Convertible 1.8i SE 2 door||2012||£9,495>||£8,125||£6,950||£2,545|
Ms Robinson is correct. If the EU or the UK government was to just bring in a ban for mileage correction services the problem will not go away. Clocking in the UK still continues to be attributed to ‘Arthur Daley’ type second-hand car dealers by the public, but the problem is much more widespread and in the majority of cases vehicles are being clocked by their current owners.
Only last week I was speaking to an insider who verbally reprimanded me for calling these companies mileage correction services – correction implies that there is an issue with an odometer that needed correcting. He informed me that with advances in technology the public can circumnavigate ‘mileage adjustment’ services.
The internet offers DIY kits that can cost as little as £40 to buy, enabling the public to adjust the mileage themselves, cutting out the middle man. Shockingly though you can go one step further. A small device is available that can be programmed and fitted to a vehicle with the sole intent of confusing the odometer on a daily basis.
This device is favoured by people or businesses that have PCP, leasing deals or high-value vehicles. For example, you have a mileage contract of 20,000 miles per annum – 60,000 miles over 3 years. You know you will cover around 40,000 miles a year (120,000 miles over 3 years) so require the mileage to be lower.
With this device you can set how many miles you cover before the odometer on the vehicle increases. As you will be expected to be doing double your allowed mileage allowance you program the device at 50 per cent. This results in odometer only increasing by one mile after you have physically covered two miles.
An AA spokesperson said: “The sale and prevalence of clock adjustment services is very worrying, there are some legitimate needs but not on the scale of what you see out there in the market.”
Mike Hawes, the SMMT Chief Executive said: “Given it is extremely rare that a vehicle will need its mileage to be altered, we see no reason for the online availability of mileage correction devices, and would support further punitive measures to reduce the risk of clocking.
“The industry is continually enhancing the levels of security protection on electronic systems – as well as maintaining a close relationship with government bodies to ensure vehicle mileages are recorded on a central database as part of the annual MOT test.”
Tim Milsom, a motor trade lead officer at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), stated: “The growing popularity of private or business car leasing has led to an increase in car clocking. Some unscrupulous owners that go over their mileage allowances would rather adjust the odometer than pay additional fees.”
It is clear that the public or businesses are playing a bigger role in the car clocking industry, yet we see few if any prosecutions of the public or private businesses not associated to car dealing. Search the internet and you find a substantial number of articles on cases or convictions for car clocking, but in every case they involve a trader or car dealer. The only case available online which doesn’t involve a car dealer is Emirates Airline’s UK chauffeur service, PCS Chauffeurs. The company (PCS) which is based in Runcorn, Cheshire and several individuals, including employees, shareholders and directors are currently awaiting trial in January 2017, after being charged with conspiracy to defraud in what is being described as a “substantial” alleged car clocking case.
It could be to do with the fact that knowingly selling on a clocked vehicle is a criminal offence, but there is the perception that there are loopholes in the law. The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) in a recent article raised the question: is there really a loophole, or is it just that authorities who are tasked with bringing prosecutions who then incur the subsequent legal costs, are reluctant to do so due to lack of resources? Or is it also due in part to a lack of clarity around the application of existing laws?
Gerry Taylor, TSI lead officer for the motor trade said: “I firmly believe that local authorities are not taking on cases with less that about an 80 per cent chance of success.
“In these days of austerity, local authorities ae very reluctant to prosecute cases that would end up costing them a lot of money. What is absolutely necessary is clarification by doing a test case with existing legislation or by a change in the law”
The only prosecution under current legislation has been the case against Colin Ogle brought by the Office of Fair Trading in 2012. Ogle was sentenced to nine months in prison for unlawfully adjusting mileage under the Fraud Act 2006 and the 2008 Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. However, in the case Ogle pleaded guilty resulting in no legal precedent being set, because the law – as it applies to car clocking – was not truly tested in a court of law.
To quote Mr Taylor, ‘nobody is above the law.’ But with plans to ban mileage correction services along with the counter argument that we should follow Ireland and make it a specific offence to tamper with a vehicles’ odometer, it raises the question: who is going to enforce the law and protect consumers and the public? You cannot just ban something or change a law without first considering who is going to enforce the law. The industry should be raising this issue along with the need to put more resources into prosecuting individuals or companies outside of the motor trade to send a clear message that car clocking is not a victimless crime and will not be tolerated.