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Odometer Fraud

49 U.S. Code § 32703 - Preventing Tampering 

Under United States federal law, for purposes of consumer protection, a vehicle's odometer is required to reflect the actual miles that the car has been driven.

For this reason, odometer fraud, a deceptive practice involving the alteration or misrepresentation of a vehicle's mileage, is a federal fraud crime under Title 49 U.S. Code 32703.

49 U.S. Code § 32703 - Odometer Fraud
It's a federal crime to disconnect, reset, or alter a motor vehicle odometer to change the mileage.

Vehicles with lower mileage will typically sell on the used car lot for a higher price.  However, suppose you tamper with an odometer to alter or reduce the mileage it displays. In that case, you are committing a federal crime.

Odometer fraud has significant implications for consumers and the motor vehicle industry alike. Consumers often bear the brunt of odometer fraud by unknowingly purchasing vehicles that have covered significantly more miles than indicated, leading to unexpected repair and maintenance costs.

This law protects consumers from fraudulent sellers who manipulate odometer readings to inflate the value of used vehicles.

49 U.S.C. 32703 preventing tampering says, “A person may not (1) advertise for sale, sell, use, install, or have installed a device that makes an odometer of a motor vehicle register a mileage different from the mileage the vehicle was driven, as registered by the odometer within the designed tolerance of the manufacturer of the odometer;

(2) disconnect, reset, alter, or have disconnected, reset, or altered an odometer of a motor vehicle intending to change the mileage registered by the odometer;

(3) with intent to defraud, operate a motor vehicle on a street, road, or highway if the person knows that the odometer of the vehicle is disconnected or not operating; or (4) conspire to violate this section or section 32704 or 32705 of this title.”

If you're convicted of illegally tampering with a vehicle's odometer, you could face significant civil penalties, criminal fines, and even prison time.

What Does the Law Say?

Title 49 U.S.C. 32703 makes it a federal crime to do any of the following acts:

  • Install, use, sell, or advertise any device that causes a vehicle odometer to read differently than the miles actually driven;
  • Disconnect, reset, or otherwise alter an odometer for the purpose of changing the registered mileage; or
  • Knowingly operate a motor vehicle knowing the odometer is disconnected or non-operational for purposes of fraud.

Other things to know about this law:

  • Conspiring to commit odometer tampering carries the same penalty under the law as actually committing the crime. In other words, if you plan to tamper with an odometer and take steps to complete that plan, you can be charged under 49 U.S.C. 32703 whether or not you carried out the plan.
  • Penalties under this law may be cumulative. In other words, you can be issued a separate fine or penalty for every instance of odometer tampering. If you embark on a scheme to change the odometer readings on 20 cars, you can be fined 20 times.

Notably, people who alter or roll back odometers also tend to alter or forge titles and other documents containing mileage information for the vehicle. False representations about a vehicle's mileage are a separate crime under federal laws and are often charged along with odometer tampering.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Mr. Smith is selling his used car. The vehicle has run 150,000 miles, which may reduce its resale value. To fetch a higher price, Mr. Smith decides to tamper with the odometer and rolls back the mileage to 75,000 miles. He then sells the car to a buyer without disclosing this alteration. In this scenario, Mr. Smith would violate 49 U.S.C. 32703 as he intentionally altered the car's odometer reading with the intent to defraud.

EXAMPLE 2: Billy owns a car dealership that purchases a fleet of high-mileage vehicles intending to resell them. To maximize profits, Billy authorizes disconnecting the odometers and resetting them to reflect a substantially lower mileage. He then sells these cars to unsuspecting customers without revealing the true mileage. Billy and his dealership can be charged under 49 U.S.C. 32703, along with any business officers involved in the scheme.

What Are the Related Offenses?

49 U.S. Code Chapter 327 Odometers has numerous federal laws that are related to 49 U.S.C. 32703 preventing tampering, including the following:

  • 49 U.S.C. 32701 – Findings and purposes;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32702 – Definitions;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32704 – Service, repair, and replacement;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32705 – Disclosure requirements on transfer of motor vehicles;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32706 – Inspections, investigations, and records;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32707 – Administrative warrants;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32708 – Confidentiality of information;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32709 – Penalties and enforcement;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32710 – Civil actions by private persons;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32711 – Relationship to state law.

Penalties for Odometer Tampering

The penalties for violating Title 49 U.S. Code 32703 and other odometer violations are outlined in 49 U.S.C. 32709. These stringent measures underline the seriousness of the federal government treating odometer fraud.

Penalties for Odometer Tampering
The punishments for odometer tampering include civil penalties and criminal penalties.

Civil Penalties

If you're convicted of odometer tampering, you may face a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation (per vehicle whose odometer is altered), up to a maximum total penalty of $1 million.

If a corporation commits the crime, all officers involved in the fraud can also be individually fined and the corporation itself. In addition, you may be subject to additional lawsuits by the Attorney General and the state government in which the odometer fraud occurred.

Criminal Penalties 

If you are convicted of odometer tampering, you may face also face the following criminal penalties:

  • Fines of up to $250,000, separate from the civil penalties above; and
  • Up to 3 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

What Are the Defenses for 49 U.S.C. 32703?

If you're charged with a crime under 49 U.S.C. 32703 odometer tampering, a skilled federal criminal defense attorney may employ several strategies to combat the charges, as discussed below.

Defenses for Odometer Fraud
Contact our law firm for a case review.

Perhaps we can argue that there was a lack of intent to defraud. Prosecutors must prove willful intent to procure a conviction. If your attorney can show that you had no such intent, the charges may be dismissed. For example, the odometer was altered as part of a repair, and you provided the buyer with documentation of the original mileage.

Perhaps we can argue that it was an innocent mistake. Your attorney might argue that the odometer discrepancy was due to an innocent mistake or error, such as a mechanical fault, and not a conscious attempt to defraud.

Perhaps we can argue that it was an unintentional discrepancy. Your attorney might argue that the discrepancy in the odometer reading was due to legitimate factors, such as tire replacement or mechanical issues, rather than intentional tampering. You can contact us for a case review by phone or via the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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