Crackdown on car clockers in the UK

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Business Minister, Anna Soubry, has pledged a law change to close the loophole enabling people to wind back the miles on a vehicle’s odemeter.

Winding back a car's mileage - or 'clocking' as it's commonly known - was very common 20-years-ago but it appears to be making a comeback, and it's not just dodgy-dealers knocking off the miles but car owners appear to be at it too.

The Sun recently reported as many as 100 firms are offering to wind back a car's digital screen to make it look like it's travelled fewer miles than it actually has.

But the loophole Business Minister Anna Soubry is referring to means the act of altering a car's odometer isn't illegal, but knowingly selling a clocked car is.

"If people are evading quite clear laws and regulations that we as society said they should not, that needs sorting out," Ms Soubry told The Sun.

"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."

While 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."

Why do people clock cars?

Clocking is often carried out in a bid to boost the sale price of a vehicle, sometimes adding thousands of pounds to the asking price.

In the '90s it was big business to physically roll back the clock but this has been replaced by easily-accessible computer technology which rolls back the digital displays in today's cars, arguably making it far easier for the dodgy practice to occur.

For people with cars on finance, clocking the miles is a way to avoid the big pence-per-mile charges associated with going over your agreed mileage at point of sale.

Vehicle history checking company HPI say as many as 1.7 million used cars with a fraudulent mileage reading could be on the UK’s roads, posing a considerable danger to other road users.

What are the dangers of clocking?

Unless a skilled 'clocker' is doing the work, it's easy to be caught out; HPI says around 10% of all the modules in a modern car, such as the airbag, ABS and ignition, feed information into the central ECU system. Each time an event occurs – such as a faulty airbag warning – a ‘snapshot’ of the vehicle’s mileage will be recorded on these modules.

So unless a vehicle’s mileage is wound back by a particularly diligent and clocker who knows to alter the mileage readings on all modules as well as the odometer, these will be out of sync. This will lead to issues with safety warnings – making it dangerous for the driver.

Neil Hodson, deputy managing director for cap hpi, said: “Clocking is a blight on the used car industry. It’s a fast and easy way for unscrupulous sellers to make money, with many simply thinking ‘why not?’.  But here is a perfect example of why not – serious problems can occur with 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. 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, the manufacturer’s warranty is likely to be void if the car is discovered to have been clocked.

"There is also a very serious legal issue to be considered. In modern vehicles, crucial evidence of a car's performance and speed at the time of an accident will be stored in the car's on-board computer. Such evidence may have an important contribution to make in an accident investigation, but sadly if a vehicle has had its mileage tampered with, the integrity of the data could have been compromised and will likely be inadmissible as evidence in court.

"An innocent party in an accident could find themselves unable to prove this if they had been driving a clocked car without realising."

Warning signs of a clocked car

Derbyshire County Council says the cars most commonly targeted for clocking are reliable makes which hide their age well. High-mileage ex-company cars and cars bought on lease are also commonly clocked.

While it's difficult to spot in modern cars with digital technology, there are a few warning signs to keep an eye out for:

  • Check the mileage on old MOT certificates and the service history
  • Excessively shiny steering wheels and worn pedals are a sign of good use
  • Stone chips on a car’s bonnet could be a sign of heavy motorway use
  • General wear and tear to seats, seatbelts, carpets and mats are another lived-in sign

Before buying a used car you can get an online history check which will confirm the car's mileage against the National Mileage Register.

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