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What is Clocking?

Clocking is when a car’s mileage has been deliberately wound back to make it look like it has spent less time on the road than it really has. The practice of clocking is not in itself illegal, but it is illegal to sell a car that has been clocked without making the buyer aware of it. This practice was particularly prevalent during the 1990s, but it has seen a resurgence in recent years. In 2010 the Government’s Office of Fair Trading estimated that just under half a million cars in the UK were impacted from clocking, with an estimated potential loss to consumers of £580m per year; by the autumn of 2015 the figure was believed to be closer to 3 million cars impacted.

What is Digital Clocking?

Before cars went digital, clocking meant getting into a car’s dashboard and manually winding back the odometer to lower the mileage. Unfortunately modern technology has made clocking cars even easier, so much so there are now a host of “mileage correction” companies. Whereas some companies demand documentation to prove the correct mileage before making an alteration, others simply make changes upon customer request – all of which is completely legal. The only time this practice breaches the laws is when the owner sells the car without informing the buyer that the correction has taken place. This is recognised as a "Misleading Action" under The Consumer Proction from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Dangers of Buying Clocked Cars

When purchasing a car, having an accurate history for that vehicle doesn’t just ensure you’re buying a car for the right price, it also ensures you’re buying a safe vehicle. To ensure a car is safe, regular maintenance checks are carried out once every 12,000 miles, or every year, to prevent serious damage or faults from occurring. If a car’s mileage is not accurate this could mean you are buying a car that may have parts that need replacing. For example, timing belts should be changed every 60,000 miles. However, if you buy a car that needs a new belt but the odometer only shows 40,000 miles, you could then be driving for another 20,000 miles unaware that at any time that belt could snap.

Who Clocks Cars?

Alarmingly, the rise in clocking has come from ordinary car owners, rather than dodgy dealers. Owners can buy the technology online themselves for just a few hundred, making it easy for them to knock tens of thousands of miles off the clock on almost any modern used car. By dramatically reducing the reported mileage of a used vehicle, it provides car owners with the opportunity to sell their vehicle at a much higher price, far outweighing the price of buying the clocking technology in the first place. As before, new online businesses have now grown around this practice, with the legislation to make their services illegal not set to come into force until 20th May 2018.

If you are concerned that a car’s mileage has been altered, you can check the vehicle’s history with an RAC Car Passport vehicle check.

Click here to view a sample RAC Car Passport Report

Read RAC Car Passport car data check terms and conditions.

The following vehicles are exempt: imports, 4x4’s, convertibles, write-offs, hybrids, vans, vehicles over 10 years old, vehicles with more than 5 seats, prestige vehicles, 4-wheel drives, LPGs, motorhomes and vehicles with more than 120,000 miles on the clock.

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