Millions of miles knocked off cars in ‘clocking' surge, councils warn

Motorists are at a greater risk of buying dangerous used cars with false mileage after a surge in ‘clocking' which has seen rogue car dealers knock off millions of miles on vehicles, councils warn today.

Latest industry figures show clocking – where the mileage is reduced to increase a vehicle's resale value – increased by 10 per cent from March 2015 to October 2015. As well as defrauding people through higher prices, the crime could hide serious mechanical problems on vehicles and lead to expensive repair bills.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is urging people to check a vehicle's history thoroughly before buying it to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

The LGA is calling for a proposed EU ban on companies providing "mileage correction" services to be retained under UK laws and brought forward from the current planned date of May 2018. An existing legal loophole means that while knowingly selling a clocked car without disclosing it is fraud, it is not illegal to alter the odometer's mileage.

The LGA is also calling for mileage correction devices – widely available for sale online for about £120 - to be banned to help reduce clocking.

Council trading standards teams nationwide have helped to secure jail sentences for rogue car dealers and individual sellers in recent clocking prosecutions. They include:

  • Five men from the same family were jailed for a total of 18 years and three months for conspiring to clock more than four million miles off cars in a professional car clocking operation. Mileages on vehicles had been lowered by as much as 125,000 miles. The case is believed to be the biggest investigation into car clocking that Birmingham Trading Standards has carried out
  • Nottingham City Council Trading Standards investigated two car dealers who were each jailed for 15 months after clocking 13 cars by more than one million miles in a case sparked from a consumer complaint
  • A used car dealer was jailed for a year for clocking cars and forging documents in a prosecution brought by Warwickshire County Council's Trading Standards. The case included selling an Audi TT with the mileage advertised incorrectly as 79,000, when it was actually 147,464.

Rogue car dealers and private sellers can increase a vehicle's value by thousands of pounds by reducing the displayed mileage to make them look less well used and more desirable.

For example, taking off 60,000 miles on a Range Rover Evoque or an Audi A3 increases their value by £4,000. Doing the same with a Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Golf increases their value by about £3,000 and £2,500, respectively.

But clocking can lead to safety problems, especially if a vehicle appears as if it isn't due a service when it actually is. It could also disguise the need for a major mechanical repair, leaving buyers with a hefty bill if something does go wrong.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

"Car clocking is major fraud that can affect anyone who buys a used car with fake documents, and can have dangerous implications.

"Unsuspecting buyers can be duped into paying over the odds for a vehicle with false mileage and in poorer condition, which could put passengers' safety at risk and lead to expensive repair bills.

"With incorrect mileage displayed, general servicing, which includes brake tests and oil changes, will not be carried out when it is due and may cause vehicle failure. The manufacturer's warranty is also likely to be void if the car is discovered to have been clocked.

"With up to 1.7 million clocked and potentially dangerous vehicles on UK roads, anyone buying a second-hand car should make as many checks as they can to ensure that the vehicle is showing its true mileage.

"Clocking is harming both reputable used car dealers and consumers, and unless the proposed EU ban on mileage correction services is brought forward and made part of UK law, thousands more cars will continue to be clocked over the next two years, jeopardising the safety of cars on UK roads.

"The Government needs to address this and introduce legislation to ban the sale of mileage correction devices, which can only be fuelling the big rise in clocking.

"Trading Standards teams across the country often receive more complaints about used cars than anything else and spend time and resources helping traders comply with the law.

"But councils won't hesitate to prosecute any car dealer or private seller who shows a blatant disregard for safety and consumer rights by clocking cars - they can face hefty fines and a prison sentence, as well as damaging their reputation."

Anyone who suspects they have bought a clocked car should contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Advice on how to avoid buying a clocked car

  • Check with the DVLA for previous MoTs that show the car's mileage.
  • Check the service history of the car to see if it tallies with the claimed mileage for each year – check that it goes up steadily and that it doesn't suddenly drop.
  • Check the steering wheel, driver's seat and pedals for wear that is disproportionate to the claimed mileage as a sign of a clocked car.
  • When collecting the car, check it shows the same mileage as when first viewed. It's not unknown for the mileage to be reduced for a viewing, then to go back up once the car is being collected.

Case studies

In May 2016, two Nottingham car dealers who clocked 13 cars by more than one million miles were each jailed for 15 months. The pair, who sold the cars with fake MOT certificates and service histories, were each ordered to pay £20,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The case was sparked from a consumer complaint to Nottingham City Council Trading Standards. Their court case follows one in April 2016 when two brothers from Nottingham clocked cars, sold them on, often with fake MOTs, and used the bank accounts of their dead grandparents to get false tax discs. The pair were jailed for 18 months.
http://www.mynottinghamnews.com/car-clockers-one-million-mile-racket-ends-in-jail/

In March 2016 a used car dealer was jailed for a year after he admitted clocking, misdescribing cars and forging documents in a prosecution brought by Warwickshire County Council's Trading Standards who received numerous complaints about his business practices. He admitted to arranging for the mileage reading to be wound back on an Audi TT from 101,369 to 72,299 before it was sold. He also admitted selling another Audi TT, knowing that the mileage was advertised incorrectly as 79,000, when it was actually 147,464. A mechanic he used was jailed for six months after he admitted fabricating or altering vehicle documents.
http://news.warwickshire.gov.uk/blog/2016/03/22/12-month-jail-sentence-for-car-clocking-car-dealer/

Five men from the same family were jailed for a total of 18 years and three months for conspiring to clock more than four million miles off cars in a professional car clocking operation. Mileages on vehicles had been lowered by as much as 125,000 miles. The case is believed to be the biggest investigation into car clocking that Birmingham Trading Standards has carried out.
http://birminghamnewsroom.com/trader-jailed-for-clocking-4-million-miles-off-cars/

A garage owner was ordered to pay nearly £5,500 after being convicted of selling a clocked car to a member of the public in a case brought by Oldham Trading Standards. The man bought a Ford Fusion from an auction with 187,000 miles on the odometer, but sold it on with only 88,000 miles on the clock. The man was also sentenced to 200 hours unpaid work.<
http://www.oldham.gov.uk/press/article/961/garage_owner_prosecuted_for_clocking_car

A chauffeur service company is to stand trial for car clocking charges in a case brought by Warrington Trading Standards. Seven individuals from the firm appeared in court in March 2016 to deny the charges, resulting in a trial date being set for 9 January 2017.
http://www.thechauffeur.com/chauffeur-firm-to-stand-trial-on-clocking-charges/

Notes to editor

  1. Car ‘clocking' costs an estimated £100 million per year in the UK alone
    http://nmr.ie/car-clocking/
  2. HPI, which provides car history checks, says clocking has increased by 10 per cent between March 2015 and October 2015. It says there could be 1.7 million clocked and potentially dangerous cars on UK roads
    https://hpicheck.com/blog/category/industry-news/
  3. Clocking can add up to £4,000 on an average family car, according to CAP Automotive
    https://www.cap.co.uk/media/1920/clocking-a-growing-concern.pdf
  4. One in every 20 cars subjected to an HPI check is found to have been clocked.
    https://hpicheck.com/blog/tag/clocked-cars/
  5. Companies that provide "mileage correction" services will be outlawed from May 2018 under EU proposals. The LGA is calling for the ban to be retained under UK laws and brought forward.

16 July 2016

Contact:

Alan Harris
020 7664 3147
alan.harris@local.gov.uk