The jaw dropping odometer on Rajah Sellathurai's 2001 Toyota Corolla - which required only regular servicing and new tires to achieve! (CNW Group/Toyota Canada Inc.)

When buying a car, one of the first things people do is check the odometer. After all, the mileage is one of the key factors in determining how much a vehicle is worth. Buyers know it and sellers know it. That’s largely why over 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with incorrect or faulty odometers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Even though sellers are required by law to include an odometer reading, and if the odometer is not correct, a statement to that effect must accompany the sale. However, vehicles ten years and older are exempt from the written disclosure requirements. The NHTSA has created s a list of tips to help car buyers determine if an odometer reading is correct.

  • Ask to see the title and compare the mileage on it with the vehicle’s odometer. Be sure to examine the title closely if the mileage notation seems obscured or is not easy to read.
  • Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage indicated on the vehicle’s maintenance or inspection records. Also, search for oil change and maintenance stickers on windows or door frames, in the glove box or under the hood.
  • Check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly. If they’re crooked, contain gaps or jiggle when you bang on the dash with your hand, walk away from the purchase.
  • Examine the tires. If the odometer on your car shows 20,000 or less, it should have the original tires.
  • Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle — especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals — to be sure it seems consistent with and appropriate for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.
  • Request a CARFAX Vehicle History Report to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle’s history. If the seller does not have a vehicle history report, use the car’s VIN to order a CARFAX vehicle history report online.

With digital odometers, it is more difficult to determine accuracy. A vehicle’s condition and a detailed history report are the best clues a buyer has. Just use a little common sense and remember “let the buyer beware” and you should be OK.