Cars with lower mileage will generally sell for a higher price on the used car market. But if you tamper with an odometer to alter or reduce the mileage it displays, you are committing a federal criminal offense.
Approximately 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer readings, defrauding car buyers of an estimated $1 billion, according to a 2002 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study.
Federal Odometer Fraud Laws
Because of the widespread nature of odometer tampering and its enormous cost to consumers, the federal government made odometer tampering a felony. Under 49 U.S.C § 32703, it is a crime to:
- advertise for sale, sell, use, install, or have installed, a device that makes an odometer of a motor vehicle register a mileage different from the mileage the vehicle was driven, as registered by the odometer within the designed tolerance of the manufacturer of the odometer;
- disconnect, reset, alter, or have disconnected, reset, or altered, an odometer of a motor vehicle intending to change the mileage registered by the odometer;
- with intent to defraud, operate a motor vehicle on a street, road, or highway if the person knows that the odometer of the vehicle is disconnected or not operating; or
- conspire to violate the foregoing provisions.
Those who alter or rollback odometers also tend to alter or forge title and other documents that contain mileage information for the vehicle. False representations about a vehicle's mileage are separate offenses under federal law and often accompany charges of odometer tampering.
For example, possessing or making a forged, altered, falsely made or counterfeited title is a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 513, while transporting such a title in interstate commerce violates 18 U.S.C. § 2314. Engaging in a conspiracy to alter odometers and falsify mileage records can get you charged under 49 U.S.C. § 32703(4).
Civil and Criminal Penalties for Odometer Fraud
The penalties for a conviction on federal odometer fraud charges can be expensive and severe. (49 U.S. Code § 32709). Civil penalties can include fines of up to $10,000 for each violation, with each altered odometer constituting a separate violation. You can also be sued by any individual who was defrauded by the altered odometer or documents, with potential damages being three times the amount of the actual damages or $10,000, whichever is greater. (49 U.S. Code § 32710).
Additionally, if you knowingly and willfully engaged in odometer fraud, you can be sentenced to up to three years in federal prison.
If you have been charged with a federal crime relating to altered odometers, our experienced federal criminal defense lawyers can help. Give us a call today to discuss your case.