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Car clocking – don’t get caught out

It’s easy to think of clocked cars as a problem of yesteryear. One that’s been tackled so you no longer need to worry about it. But sadly, nothing could be further from the truth, as one in every 20 cars subjected to an HPI check is found to have been clocked.

Where there’s easy money to be made, crooks will always strike – and with clocking so easy and the rewards potentially so great, it’s no wonder clocking is still such a big issue. So big in fact, that according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), clocked cars cost the motor industry and consumers more than £100 million each year.

According to used car valuation experts Glass’s, if you’re lucky enough to own a 12-plate BMW 530d SE Touring it’s worth little more than £15,000 with 150,000 miles on the clock. But halve this mileage and the car’s value jumps to just under £20,000. Cut the mileage to just 30,000 and the BMW is worth a whopping £23,000 – a 53 per cent (and £8000) increase over the 150,000-mile car. No wonder clocking is rife.

Last year, one gang of criminals was imprisoned for clocking at least 255 cars, with four million miles being lost in the process. In 2013, a Nottingham-based dealer pocketed over £130,000 by wiping six million miles off 74 used cars that he sold online . With these scams far from unusual, you really need to have your wits about you.

What is clocking and how does it work?

A clocked car is one that’s had its mileage reduced, to make it more appealing to a used car buyer and to boost its value in the process. Clocking is a problem that’s been around for decades, because removing a car’s speedometer to wind back its odometer (its mileage indicator) is so simple.

Nowadays things are made even easier for crooks, because cars often still look fresh, even when they’ve done 100,000 miles, while digital odometers are incredibly simple to rewind. Call in a ‘mileage correction firm’ and for less than £100 they’ll plug a laptop in to your car’s ECU and reduce the mileage to whatever you want. Bizarrely it’s not illegal to wind back the clock on a car – but it is against the law to do so, then sell the car on without disclosing that the mileage has been reduced.

Auto Express ran a feature in 2014 on these mileage correction services, against which HPI has long campaigned. Our hard work has paid off too, as they’ll be outlawed from mid-May 2018– by which time they’ll have enabled many more vendors to sell illegally clocked cars.

How to make sure you don’t buy a clocked car

If you’re buying a used car, one of the many things you need to do is ensure it hasn’t been clocked. The first and most obvious step is to get an HPI check as this includes a quiz of the National Mileage Register (NMR). If the car is currently displaying a lower mileage than is logged against the car on the NMR database, it’s almost certainly been clocked.

The thing is, it’s becoming increasingly common for vendors to supply an HPI check with the car they’re selling. But you must do your own, as it’s not unusual for these reports to be fakes. It’s only by getting your own HPI check that you can guarantee the car’s displayed mileage is accurate – and that its past isn’t shady in any other way.

Also, look through previous MoTs and any service history that come with the car. The mileage should go up gradually, but it’s not as rare as you might think for it to go up quite rapidly then suddenly drop – because it’s been clocked. Some buyers are daft enough to assume that a car must be legit just because it comes with plenty of history – but it’s up to you to wade through all this paperwork to see what it turns up.

You must also check that the service book supplied is the correct one for the car. It’s not unknown for a service book of the correct make to be supplied when it’s for a different car – and perhaps even a different model – altogether.

In your pre-purchase checks you also need to analyse the condition of everything. If the car’s nose is peppered with stone chips it’s probably spent a hard life racking up a high mileage on the motorway. If the pedals and steering wheel are worn smooth or the seatbelt retracting mechanism is weak, the car isn’t a low-mileage example, whatever the odometer says.

What to do if you find a clocked car

If during your pre-purchase checks you discover that a car has been clocked, inform your local Trading Standards office and the police. Don’t buy the car then knowingly sell it on later, as you’ll be committing an offence.

If you buy a car then later discover it’s been clocked, you also can’t try to sell it on because that’s also illegal. You’ll need to go back to whoever sold the car to you and negotiate with them. If it was a private seller they may have disappeared, but if it was a trader they’ll hopefully come up with a solution that keeps you happy. If they don’t you’ll need to talk to your local Trading Standards office and spill the beans, at which point the trader will probably be only too happy to enter into negotiations with you…

Richard Dredge

January 2016