Saturday, August 13, 2005

Can you trust the digital odometer reading on that used car?

One estimate claims that 3/4 of all vehicle sales in the U.S. involve used cars or trucks -- a total of 45 million sales a year. What if millions of buyers are being defrauded by false odometer readings?

Someone is selling a kit that allows any backyard mechanic to reset digital odometers:

Click to see full-size screen shots.

Read the label on the CD, and you see a link to where you can buy this kit from the "retailer." At their Web site you'll find this inspiring disclaimer:

Yeah, right. We're selling this kit that will let anyone who's handy under the hood reset a digital odometer. Please do not use this to defraud anyone.

This was first reported on Dave Farber's mailing list by, who was looking to buy a used truck, but found it odd to see listings of trucks that were years old with only 5000 miles on them. The odometer resetter was for sale on Ebay.

This raises some interesting questions:
  • How widespread is this fraud? This could represent hundreds of millions, or billions, of dollars in annual fraud.
  • How will Ebay respond? The device isn't inherently evil, but you've gotta believe most buyers are not working in pristine mainstream repair shops.
  • What is the auto industry's stance on this? Is there a technical solution that would at least inform buyers of used vehicles that the odometer is no longer in virgin factory status?
  • When will the media pick this story up? (Farber's list is the source of many an article you read in The New York Times.)
  • Will Congress respond?
  • What will Elliot Spitzer (New York Attorney General, the Elliot Ness of our time) do?

And also: who the heck is

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