TAMPA, Fla. — It's a crime that costs Americans $1 billion a year, and it's running rampant in Florida. The Sunshine State now ranks fourth in the country in vehicles on the road with rolled-back odometers.
Tampa resident Lonnie Williams' search for a truck ended with an online dealer ad for a 2007 Ford F-150. The ad said the truck had 171,000 miles on it. And according to Williams' bill of sale from 813 Wheels and Deals LLC in Tampa, the mileage was just over 174K.
"If you are telling me the truck has 171,000 miles on it, that's what I am believing because that is what is advertised," Williams said.
Fear of missing out amid the hot used car market keeps buyers, including Williams, from demanding a vehicle history report such as Carfax or having the vehicle inspected by a mechanic.
"I didn't want the risk of someone else purchasing it and me missing out on the deal," Williams said.
Williams, a restaurant manager, paid $5,000 cash for the pickup in January, but truck trouble started days later when he noticed it was "drinking coolant," he said.
In Florida, when you buy a vehicle "as is," there's no recourse if it falls apart.
The Carfax report showed a prior owner registered the same pickup as the Ford in 2017 when it had 242,000 miles on it.
It's against state and federal laws to tamper with or roll back an odometer.
A state DMV recommends taking these steps to avoid getting burned by odometer fraud:
- Look for signs of wear on the brake and gas pedal pads or the recent replacement of the pads;
- Check for loose screws around the dashboard;
- Observe the wear and tear on seats or take notice of new seat cover installation, a vehicle with low mileage should not have excessive wear;
- If the car has less than 20,000 miles, it should not have a replacement set of tires;
- Ask to see the maintenance records of the vehicle and the original owner manual for the vehicle; and
- Consider having the vehicle inspected by a reputable mechanic of your choosing.
In Florida, checking the last recorded mileage on any vehicle is fast and free. Log onto the Florida Highway Safety Motor Vehicles website and plug in the VIN.
Williams' truck is labeled as exempt, which means the vehicle is more than 10 years old.
Carfax now ranks Florida fourth in the country with over 75,000 vehicles on the road with a rolled-back odometer.
In addition, Carfax places Tampa in the top 20 of more than 200 metro areas in the U.S. for the same reason. The area is home to an estimated 18,000 vehicles with false odometer readings.
Josh Ingle, the owner of Atlanta Speedometer, said rolling back an odometer leaves no digital footprint. He demonstrated how a tool used for legitimate repairs could be attached to a vehicle to change the odometer reading.
It took him minutes to roll back a truck with 265,000 miles to 85,000 miles. That quick switch added $9,000 to the purchase price, and that's not counting the additional maintenance that comes with a high mileage vehicle.
After finding out about the odometer, Williams asked 813 Wheels and Deals LLC for a full refund but said the dealer refused, telling him the vehicle was sold "as is."
Williams contacted Callaway, who left multiple messages with the dealership manager and reported the case to Florida's DMV.
The state questioned the dealer about the sale, and he offered to take the truck back and return Williams' $5,000.
"When I found out I was ecstatic. I was very happy," Williams said.
The dealership manager Kevin Patterson told ABC Action News the ad for the Ford was wrong, and the person responsible no longer works with him. Patterson said he had nothing to do with the odometer. The DMV said it has had no other complaints involving the dealer.
It was a tough lesson for Williams, who said he'll never buy another vehicle without checking a history report.
"The test drive isn't enough. You must get more information."
This story was originally published by Jackie Callaway of WFTS in Tampa Bay, Florida.