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Extend Vehicle Lifespans and Detect Odometer Fraud | National Odometer Day

National Odometer Day - How Odometers Work and How to Keep Them Going

May 12th is National Odometer Day. While you may not be familiar with National Odometer Day, you probably know that the odometer in your car measures the distance traveled by the vehicle.

But did you know that the invention of the odometer predates motor vehicles by over 2000 years? First described by Vetruvius in 27 BCE, it is widely accepted that odometers were first used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Some say that the odometer was invented by Archimedes during the first Punic War (Scientific American).

While no one can say for sure who invented the device, there has always been a great desire for such a device. Odometers were and remain a great way to measure distances between two places. They literally paved the way for modern road building and travel.

How Does an Odometer Work?

How do odometers work - Leonardo DaVinci odometer

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Leonardo Da Vinci)

An odometer (aka a roadometer) works by counting the number of wheel rotations and then multiplying it by the circumference of the tire, which is the diameter of the tire times pi (3.14…). Leonardo Da Vinci’s odometer (seen above) works by collecting small stones into a dedicated holder, which can then be counted to accurately measure the distance traversed by the wheel. Click here for more information on how odometers work.

Keep in mind that heavily worn tires and under-inflated tires can cause errors in odometer readings.

Why Are Odometers Useful?

Odometer readings are important because they give you a general sense of the value of the car. This simple number indicates:

  • When it’s time for an oil change (about every 3,000 miles, but double-check your owner’s manual)
  • When expected repairs and maintenance are due (check owner’s manual for maintenance schedule)
  • How well the vehicle was taken care of
  • If any vehicles warranties are still in effect
  • The life expectancy of the vehicle
  • The value of the car (when it’s time to sell or trade up)

How to Keep Your Odometer Going

If you want to rack up 300,000 miles or more and extend the lifespan of your vehicle, here are a few tips:

  1. Buy the right vehicle

Some common 300,000+ cars include Toyotas, Fords, and Hondas. According to Consumer Reports, these sedans, SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks are most likely to get to 300,000 miles and beyond:

  1. Never ignore strange sounds, smells, or vibrations 

If you notice anything strange or wrong with the vehicle, take it in for a professional inspection. Similarly, never ignore your dashboard warning lights.

  1. Change the oil every 3,000-3,500 miles 

Regular oil changes are probably the best way to extend the lifespan of your vehicle. While 3,000 miles (around 3 months) is a safe bet, check your owner’s manual for the proper oil change schedule.

  1. Avoid lots of starts and stops

If you mostly drive on the highway, you have a better chance of passing the 200,000-mile mark. If you can’t avoid a lot of local start-and-stop trips, try to coast as much as possible. Sudden starts and stops will diminish your vehicle’s lifespan. Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Try to drive on the highway at least once a month.

  1. Don’t turn your heating or cooling on right away

Allow the vehicle to warm up for a minute or two before turning on the heating or air conditioning. This helps everything get lubricated first, reducing the load on your engine.

  1. Don’t make these manual transmission mistakes 

Use your brakes rather than the gears to slow the vehicle down. Shoot for 2,000-3,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) to avoid stressing the engine.

Don’t depress the clutch pedal more than necessary. While it may seem cool and comfortable, don’t rest your hand on the gear shifter.

  1. Fill your tank up with the correct gas

 Check your owner’s manual to know the proper octane level for your vehicle. Filling up with the wrong octane level can diminish your vehicle’s lifespan.

For additional ways to extend the lifespan of your vehicle, avoid these common bad driving habits.

How to Detect Odometer Fraud

Unfortunately, odometer fraud is a common problem in the car buying and selling process. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings! That’s is one reason why it’s so important to purchase a vehicle from a trusted source (learn about the risks involved when buying from a private seller).

Before changes in how odometers were made, they could be easily tampered with. Sometimes, the cable could be reversed so that the numbers ran backwards instead of forwards. While odometers in newer vehicles have many safeguards in place to prevent this kind of tampering, older vehicles are still susceptible to odometer fraud.

 Luckily, consumers have a few options to detect odometer fraud: 

  1. Check CarFax Vehicle History Report 

The CarFax reports will give you mileage records, inconsistencies, and other odometer problems. Compare the mileage on the odometer with the reported mileage on the vehicle maintenance and inspection reports. Since inspections normally record the mileage number any inconsistencies are a clear red flag. Make sure the odometer reading is higher than the latest record.

If the seller does not provide a Vehicle History Report, order your own using the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number).

  1. The numbers are not lined up straight, contain gaps, or jiggle

Sometimes, if the odometer has been rolled back, the numbers will not line up straight. Unaltered odometer numbers are perfectly aligned. Look carefully at the 10,000 place number. This digit is the one most commonly tampered with. If the numbers jiggle when you hit the dash, contain gaps, or are misaligned, there’s a high chance they have been tampered with. Walk away from the purchase.

  1. Estimate the odometer reading by calculating the age of the car

The average car puts on about 12,000 miles per year. If the car is 7 years old, it should have around 84,000 miles on it. If not, there is cause for concern. Investigate the causes for lower than average mileage, such as if the car is a backup or the owner has a reason to rarely use it.

  1. Look for inconsistent wear and tear

Look for inconsistent wear and tear in the interior of the vehicle. Pay special attention to the gas, brake, and clutch pedals. Make sure they are consistent with the odometer reading. Examine other high-touch areas, such as the steering wheel, seats, and arm rests. If you are unsure, take the car to a mechanic for an inspection (you should conduct your own vehicle inspection regardless).

  1. Check the tires

If there is less than 20,000 miles on the car, it should still have the original tires. Inspect the wear of the tires by asking a mechanic to check the depth of the tread. If there is 20,000-25,000 miles on the car, the tread should be deeper than 2/32 of an inch. If the vehicle has new tires or the tire tread is significantly deeper than 2/32 inch, then there is cause for concern. You can also measure tire tread depth yourself with the penny test.

Finally, take the vehicle to a mechanic and ask them to specifically look for signs of odometer fraud. This includes inspecting the vehicle for replacement parts. If the odometer has a low reading, there shouldn’t be many replacement parts. They will be familiar with other fraud detections as well.

Learn more about odometer fraud by visiting nhtsa.gov.

Happy National Odometer Day!


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