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The number of cars with false mileages on the road has hit 2.3 million, leading an organisation of councils to call for a ban on DIY mileage-correction ‘clocking’ tools.

The latest figures from vehicle data company HPI shows that vehicles with a mileage discrepancy increased by 25% between 2014 and 2016 (the latest year for which data is available.) One in every 16 vehicles the company checks now has a mileage discrepancy issue.


What is clocking?

Clocking is the process of manually altering a car’s odometer to show fewer miles than the car has actually recorded. It is done either to make the car appear more desirable and valuable, or to avoid excess mileage penalties on a finance agreement like a PCP.


The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said a ban on DIY mileage-correction devices – which are freely available for around £100 online – would stop the rise of so-called ‘clocking’.

Councillor Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Car clocking is a rising major fraud which not only rips off motorists but can have dangerous implications. Unscrupulous dealers are tricking unsuspecting buyers into paying thousands of pounds more for a vehicle with false mileage, which could put their safety at risk and lead to expensive repair bills if it is in a poorer condition than has been suggested.

“The sale of cheap mileage correction software needs to be banned as this can only be fuelling the big rise in clocking and illegal profits.”

Speedometer tampering to reduce mileage
Digital odometers can be manipulated just as easily as mechanical units, so don’t be fooled

Why is clocking a problem?

Clocking can add up to £4,000 to the price of a used family car, according to HPI, making the vehicle appear more desirable than it would with its true mileage.

It is also used to try and avoid excess mileage penalties on mileage-based car finance agreements like a personal contract purchase (PCP), which can cost a car owner hundreds or even thousands of pounds.

However, clocking can hide serious mechanical faults or lead the new owners to ignore service items that would otherwise be necessary.

Most cars require major service items to be replaced on a mileage basis, and if the odometer has been wound back (possibly multiple times), it is highly likely that scheduled servicing work has not been undertaken correctly. Plus, if an owner is trying to hide a car’s mileage, would you really trust them to have had the car properly serviced and maintained?

Why isn’t clocking simply outlawed?

The EU has proposed a ban on mileage correction devices, but the LGA is calling for this to be implemented and retained under UK law after Brexit. Currently, it’s not illegal to sell a clocked car, but the modification must be disclosed.

Dealers are allowed to adjust mileage in necessary circumstances – for example, if a car has had an instrument panel replaced, the odometer can be adjusted to the level of the new vehicle.

“Clocking is tarnishing the reputation of honest used car dealers and sellers, and councils won’t hesitate to bring any car dealer or private seller to justice who shows a blatant disregard for safety and consumer rights,” said Blackburn.

How to spot a clocked car

MOT mileage history
Some quick maths suggests this car was registered in 2011, had its first MOT in 2014 and had done about 13,000 miles each year until 2016, then it only did 2,400 miles the following year. Why?

When looking at any used car, you should check the claimed mileage carefully and look for any signs that it may have been altered. You don’t need to be an expert, you simply need to ask a few simple questions and trust your instincts if anything seems amiss

Ask to see the car’s MOT history and service documents, which will show the car’s mileage at each service or inspection. If the seller can’t provide them or is reluctant to show them to you, walk away.

Work on the basis that the average car will do about 10,000 miles per year, albeit with a lot of variation. So if you are looking at a five-year-old car, you would expect that car to have covered somewhere in the region of 50,000 miles in its lifetime. If it’s a lot less than that, ask why. It could be entirely legitimate that an owner only does a few thousand miles per year, but it’s not all that common.

Worn side bolster on driver's seat
Look for wear on tear on seats that doesn’t match up with a car’s age and mileage

Look at the mileage and then look at the vehicle’s condition. If a car says it’s only done about 20,000 miles, the seats should be in very good condition with very little visible wear. Have a good look at the main ‘touch points’, like the driver’s seat, steering wheel, gear lever, pedals and electric window switches. If they are worn, scratched or faded, the car has possibly done a lot more than 20,000 miles.

If you’re looking at a diesel car, particularly a large saloon or people carrier, it may have had a previous life as a minicab and covered a lot of miles, then had the mileage wound back to a more normal number. Look for signs of wear around the boot where luggage has been lifted in and out, wear and tear in the rear seats, and scratches around USB ports/power sockets/cigarette lighters in the front of the cabin.

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Stuart Masson
Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.