Representative picture to go with story on people altering the meter to reduce the mileage at the time of selling their vehicle. Image Credit: VIRENDRA SAKLANI/Gulf News archives

Dubai: Motorists in Dubai are calling on the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to make odometer rollback detection part of vehicle inspection.

Lack of facilities to detect odometer tampering in Dubai is hurting used car buyers, with many falling prey to shady dealers who cheat unsuspecting customers.

According to many motorists, who have fallen prey to odometer fraud, dealers are getting away with the malpractice because none of the vehicle inspection centres in the city detect odometer tampering.

“I wanted to buy a 2009 GMC Yukon from a used-car dealer. The odometer reading suggested the car had done 95,000 kilometres but when I test drove the car I suspected it had done more. I took the vehicle for the vehicle inspection but I was told it won’t detect whether the odometer was rolled back,” said Mohammad Saleem.

He added that the vehicle didn’t have any maintenance record and the dealer didn’t agree to bring the vehicle to the authorised dealer to check the records.

“I thought if the vehicle was clean, the seller would have agreed to bring the vehicle to the authorised dealer. There we have found the vehicle’s record, but he didn’t agree. I feel if RTA or the vehicle testing centres provide this odometer testing facility it will be a great service for the people,” said Saleem.

Manoj Mahalley, an Indian resident, fell prey to the odometer tampering fraud recently when he bought a used Mitsubishi Pajero.

“When I bought the car, the odometer read 136,352 kilometres. I got the car tested and registered. There were a few minor issues with the vehicle but I didn’t suspect any tampering or fraud. But after a few days when I opened the glovebox I found a test certificate of the same vehicle and the odometer reading suggested 282,117 kilometres. I was shocked to say the least,” said Mahalley.

Mahalley took the seller to court, but apparently the two test certificates with different odometer readings weren’t proof enough to find the seller guilty.

“I requested RTA to produce a certificate as an evidence of tampering, which the court required, but I didn’t get any help from RTA,” he added.

Sultan Al Marzouqi, director of RTA’s Vehicle Licensing Department, said that according to the prevailing laws, RTA can provide the documents or certificate of proof only when requested by an authorised government entity and in this case by Dubai Courts.

He said that the annual vehicle inspection for vehicle registration only tests the vehicle for its road worthiness, which includes safety, and part of the inspection is to record the vehicle’s existing odometer reading.

“Odometer tampering is not part of the road worthiness and hence it is not under the RTA’s jurisdiction during the vehicle inspection, but the functionality of the odometer itself is a part of the parameters and checked while undergoing the registration or renewal test,” he said.

However, he added: “As part of our ongoing efforts, RTA is reviewing its current procedures which includes exploring the tools to minimise any meter tampering.”

A salesman at Sharjah’s used car market admitted that odometer rollback is a common practice and dealers resort to the malpractice to get a better deal.

“I have been working in the used market for the last 25 years and I have commonly seen odometer tampering. Dealers get away with the practice because there is no way anyone can prove it,” said the salesman on the condition of anonymity.

He said one easy way to check for odometer fraud is to compare the kilometre reading in the odometer with the last service reading.

However, for those vehicles which have not been maintained at an agency or the previous owner has not kept a record of maintenance, it is near impossible to detect tampering.


Protection from fraud

Hundreds of motorists have faced odometer fraud and many wonder how it is done and how to detect it.

Gulf News spoke with an engineer to get a peek in to mechanism of an odometer.

“In the old days the speedo head had to be removed and inside it was a tumble system with wheels so you could turn the wheels as required but nowadays it is all done through a computer and all the information is stored inside the ECU (electronic control unit),” said Gordon Ferguson, general manager of AAA Service Centre.

The information stored inside the ECU can be accessed if one has the correct software and knowledge.

He added: “Some people transfer the ECE from another car with lower kilometres and then reprogram it.”

Is there a way to detect the rollback?

“It is impossible for a layman to know if the odometer has been tampered with,” he said.

But there are ways a person can protect himself from fraud by following a few simple steps:

• Always buy a used car from a reliable source.

• Always get the car inspected by a reputed third party garage.

• Always ask the seller to provide proof of service/maintenance as the odometer readings are registered at the service time.