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Mileage correction: How to spot a clocked car

16 Mar 2012 at 14:22

A staggering 1 million cars checked by HPI – a primary source of information for the UK motor industry – last year returned a mileage discrepancy.

Compared to five years ago, that represents more than a 10 per cent increase in the number of used cars reporting inaccurate odometer readings.

So if unscrupulous private sellers are becoming more prevalent in the used car market, how can you spot a “clocked” car?

Clocking is a term used to describe the process of reducing a car’s recorded mileage, helping it appear fresher and more attractive to prospective buyers – but there are a few areas to look at when embarking on a potential new purchase to ensure you pick up an honest vehicle.

Firstly, check the car’s service history. At every service – usually 12-monthly or every 12,000 miles – the vehicle’s mileage should have been recorded, giving you a good indication of how far it’s travelled.

Sometimes a dishonest seller may have purchased a new service book or doctored the existing one, so a call to the previous keeper to validate the mileage when they sold it is also worthwhile.

You have to trust your judgement when buying a car too, as gut instinct and evidence collected with your own eyes can help in making a decision.

If there’s anything out of keeping with the general condition of the vehicle – an extremely tired interior with only 40,000 miles on the clock should set alarm bells ringing, for example.

Actual signs of clocking are far harder to spot these days, of course: electronic odometers mean the days of checking that numbers in the mileage readout line up evenly are long gone. You could try looking for electrical oddities elsewhere though, such as a malfunctioning trip computer. If the electrical system has been tampered with, tell-tale gremlins can be introduced too.

It sound simple, but check the mileage of the vehicle on every viewing as well. Clockers often wind back a vehicle’s total for a first viewing, enticing buyers into a car advertised as low mileage, only to return the clock to standard on a second viewing, or after a purchase, to ensure everything appears legal again.

Finally, there’s always the option of conducting an HPI check. For a small fee, you can access a database of 135 million mileages, validating a vehicle’s history – chances are the car you’re looking at will be included. You can use our HPI Check comparison table to find out more about how these services stack up against each other.