The vehicle identification number (VIN) is composed of 17 characters (digits and capital letters) that act as a unique identifier for the vehicle. A VIN displays the car's unique features, specifications and manufacturer.
The VIN can be found in a couple of places including on the car's registration label (1), on the compliance plate in the engine bay (2) or on the passenger side windshield (3), or on one of the door posts (where the door latches when it is closed) (4). See the image below:
Buying a used vehicle is a smart way to save money. However, a second-hand car can come with hidden dangers. Most people assume a vehicle's odometer will display every kilometre it has ever travelled, unfortunately, this isn't always the case.
Odometer rollback is when a person illegally rewinds or tampers with a vehicle's odometer to deceive potential buyers, making it look like the car has travelled fewer kilometres. This enables them to sell the car for a higher price. Odometers can be illegally disconnected and replaced, and the numbers can be digitally or mechanically altered.
What is odometer rollback?
How can I tell if a vehicle's odometer has been wound back?
It can be difficult to determine whether a vehicle has had its odometer tampered with by physical inspection alone. However, there are some checks you can conduct:1
Once you've done a physical appraisal of the vehicle you're interested in, have it inspected by a licensed motor vehicle mechanic.
Check the vehicle's reported history with a CarHistory report
The best way to investigate the possibility of odometer rollback is to get a CarHistory report. CarHistory is the only outfit that provides a comprehensive report on a used vehicle's reported history, regardless of how many states and territories it has been registered in.
Between 2013 and 2016, CarHistory reports revealed 4,172 odometer wind-backs.2 It's easy to get a report on the car you're interested in - enter the registration or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to find out if its odometer reading is consistent with what has previously been reported, or if it might have been wound back. A CarHistory report can also provide you with other essential information on the used vehicle you're researching such as:
What should I do if I suspect a vehicle's odometer has been tampered with?
Because odometer tampering is a serious and ongoing issue in Australia, the penalties are harsh. In Queensland, the maximum fine for tampering with an odometer is $27,570 or two years imprisonment.3 To report a suspected case of odometer rollback, you should provide the vehicle details such as the VIN, the seller of the vehicle and any supporting documents such as receipts, invoices, and contracts.4 If you suspect that a vehicle's odometer has been altered, you can report it to your state's local consumer protection agency.
Getting a certified mechanic to inspect the vehicle will help minimise the risk of buying a car that has had its odometer wound back. You can also help to ensure your future vehicle doesn't come with any hidden issues by finding out its reported history with a CarHistory report.
1. Choice.com.au. Odometer fraud. Accessed February 2022.
2. Choice.com.au. Odometer fraud. Accessed February 2022.
3. Qld.gov.au. Motor industry breaches and penalties. Accessed February 2022.
4. Service.nsw.gov.au. Report suspected odometer tampering. Accessed February 2022.