RAC Cars News


Clocked cars: a return to the bad old days?

By raccars Published

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Clocking used cars to falsify mileage readings is re-emerging as an issue; it is important that motorists recognise this and check any potential purchase. Ministers have announced that they would be looking to tackle the issue to change the laws about clocking, but for now you can get a vehicle check to ensure your next car hasn't been tampered with.

Clocking conundrum

Clocking a car is an underhanded practice that was especially prevalent two decades ago, when a number of shady dealerships would deliberately alter the milometer reading to make it seem as though a second hand vehicle had not spent quite as long on the road as it really had.

While there was a subsequent period during which the clocking craze died down, the Telegraph notes that in the past half-decade there has been a significant resurgence in the number of vehicles which are reported to have some kind of mileage discrepancy.

Back in 2010 the Office of Fair Trading estimated that just under half a million cars in the UK were impacted; by the autumn of 2015 the figure was believed to be closer to 3 million.

Tricky techniques

The main cause for the alarming rise in the doctoring of used vehicle mileage seen in recent years is not emanating from unscrupulous dealers. Rather, it is as a result of average car owners themselves being given access to technology which makes it easy to make mileage alterations.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, the digital technology employed in modern vehicles makes it surprisingly simple to tamper with settings, with devices sold online for just a few hundred pounds allowing people to knock tens of thousands of miles off the clock on almost any modern used car. And in fact there are even businesses built solely around this practice, with the legislation that will render their services illegal not set to come into force for another three years.

Devices which allow private owners to clock their vehicle at home are not illegal at the moment and it would appear that campaigners are having a tough time convincing politicians that taking action to ban them outright would be beneficial.

Motorists’ motivations

There are two main motivations for clocking a car, both of which are contrary to the interests of the individuals who subsequently buy the vehicle and to the UK’s large network of dealerships.

For car owners, clocking represents an opportunity to dramatically reduce the reported mileage of a used vehicle, which can translate into a substantial increase in its second hand value. For a popular family car this can increase the resale or part exchange value by several thousand pounds, making the cost of the clocking device or the service provided by a specialist company seem a small outlay compared with the potential gains.

Clocking is further growing in popularity because drivers are selecting mileage-based finance deals and servicing packages. And if they exceed the agreed upon limit, they could face additional charges, thus incentivising them to reduce the displayed mileage.

The lack of political momentum in relation to this issue is widely attributed to the fact that consumers themselves are either not aware of the issue or are actively benefiting from clocking. As a result, only dealerships are currently leading the call for legislative action to be taken.

The potential ramifications are severe: any car which is sold on the basis of a falsified mileage has had its true history disguised. When you factor in genuine wear and tear, this makes it not only a financial burden but also a potential danger to the unsuspecting buyer.

The return of the car clocking culture should be a concern for any driver and makes it even more important to thoroughly check the history of a used vehicle before you buy.

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