With an increase in the sale of vehicles, the production of automobiles has gone up considerably and there are now new options in the market every year. This has resulted in severe competition in the automobile market, making cars more affordable to increase sales. People are spoiled for choice and a couple of years after purchasing a new car they want to upgrade to a better model. This way, many used cars end up at second-hand showrooms across the country and those looking for relatively new cars but unwilling to pay a hefty price will often visit these showrooms. It is common knowledge that when a car is used and driven a lot, its market value reduces so when these showrooms buy it, they are looking for ways to make a profit and one of the ways to guarantee this is by using unfair methods like odometer fraud. An odometer is a meter in the car that tracks how many kilometers the car has covered. It is used to check whether the car is in good condition or whether it is worn out and second-hand retailers often tamper with this meter to make it seem like the car was hardly used by its previous owner.
Consumers are affected by this malpractice as they believe the claims made by the retailer because they are considered to be experts. However, if affected by this practice, a customer has a remedy by way of Consumer Redressal Commissions through the Consumer Protection Act, 1986.
Retailers can also be held liable under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code for cheating or dishonestly inducing a person to deliver any property, i.e. money to another person and the punishment for this offence is imprisonment for a term of up to 7 years.
Remedy under the Consumer Protection Act
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, defines a consumer as any person who “buys any goods for a consideration which has been paid or promised or partly paid and partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment and includes any user of such goods other than the person who buys such goods for consideration paid or promised or partly paid or partly promised, or under any system of deferred payment when such use is made with the approval of such person, but does not include a person who obtains such goods for resale or for any commercial purpose.”[i] In simpler words, a consumer is any person who buys a product or avails a service for his own use and not for commercial purposes or resale.
The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, makes provisions for the setting up of District Consumer Forums (handles cases up to ₹20 Lakhs), State Consumer Redressal Commissions (handles cases between ₹20 Lakhs and ₹1 Crore) and the National Consumer Redressal Commission (handles cases above ₹1 Crore). A consumer can file a complaint in any of these Commissions depending on their jurisdiction.
As per this Act, all manufacturers and retailers have a duty to make sure that their products are of a certain standard and any representation to the contrary will make them liable for unfair trade practices. If found guilty of unfair trade practices like misrepresentation of quality, a consumer has the right to file a complaint in the Consumer Redressal Commission to avail a remedy.
In a 2017 case filed in the Bangalore District Consumer Redressal Forum, a consumer proved that he was a victim of odometer tampering by SLV Car World, a second hand car retailer, and the Consumer Forum ordered the defendants to pay ₹1.5 Lakhs for unfair trade practices.[ii]
Steps to detect odometer tampering
With the digitalization of meters, odometer tampering has reduced but it still exists, so it is important that consumers are aware of how to detect it. Here are some steps that, as a consumer, can be used to protect yourself from this malpractice[iii]:
- Check the service history of the car to make sure that the mileage in the service sheet matches the mileage on the odometer.
- Look for missing screws on or near the dashboard. The absence of screws might mean that the odometer has been tampered with.
- Inspect the brake pedal and floor mats for wear and tear. If the pedal and mat are worn out but the mileage is low, it might be a case of odometer fraud.
- Take the vehicle to a reputed mechanic and ask him/her to check the car thoroughly. This will help detect other defects, if any, too.
- Measure the depth of the tread on the tires. If the tread is deep but the mileage is low, then the car may have run more kilometers than displayed on the odometer.
Odometer tampering has become a huge issue because it is one way by which retailers in second-hand vehicles can make money for cars that are not worth as much as they charge. The logic behind the rise in odometer tampering is simple, used cars with lower mileage sell faster. Earlier it was a common practice but now, with the rise in consumer awareness the number of cases has reduced. However, with technological advancements come skill and those who tamper with the odometer use special methods so that it goes undetected. This makes it all the more important for consumers to be cautious and the steps mentioned above cane be used to equip oneself in case any such situation arises.
Edited by Pragash Boopal
Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje
[i] The Consumer Protection Act, 1986, No. 68, Acts of Parliament, 1986 (India).
[ii] Petlee Peter, Dealer sells car with tampered odometer, asked to pay damages, Times of India, May 14, 2018 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/dealer-sells-car-with-tampered-odometer-asked-to-pay-damages/articleshow/64151405.cms.
[iii] Eddie Carrara, Odometer Mileage Tampering: 4 signs to look for, Simple Car Answers, (August 6, 2019, 3:25 PM) https://www.simple-car-answers.com/Odometer-Mileage-Tampering.html.