‘Clocking’ on the rise.

Posted on September 12th, 2017 by Rob Marshall

clocking

To me, ‘mileage correction’ is a rather misleading phrase, because it tries to give something that appears to be inherently immoral an outwardly respectable facade. Yet, I accept that the ability to alter a vehicle’s mileage has a viable place in the arena of honest vehicle repairs.

Historically, a car’s total mileage reading was presented on revolving drums, located within the speedometer head. While I am unsure about the success rate of a fraudster’s technique, described in Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’, which involved winding back milometers using a reversing drill, away from child fiction, the most common method was to open-up the speedometer and rotate the drums physically to the desired position (as pictured). Yet, even on speedometers that worked electrically, these types of analogue display operated by mechanical means. Broken nylon cogs were the main problem, which resulted in the read-out freezing. The usual repair technique was to renew the speedometer, prior to splitting it open, to rotate the drums manually, in order to show the original mileage.

The reasons for…

Today, digital displays are the norm and one would think that they are perfectly reliable. They are not. Electrical software glitches and hardware failures can cause the instrument panel to fail and, if a new cluster is fitted, like the original analogue type, it must be programmed with the new mileage. Obviously, second-hand clusters tend to display the incorrect mileage anyway and, because the correct reading tends to be recorded within another one of the car’s computers as well as the instrument assembly, some carmakers ensure that an erroneous figure is displayed, should a discrepancy be detected.

Therefore, mileage correction has a valid use, when replacing faulty instrument clusters / speedometers. In my experience, these clusters have become considerably more complicated and are more prone to fail sooner than their mechanical / electro-mechanical predecessors.

The reasons against…

While digital readouts were supposed to make fraudulent ‘clocking’ harder, ironically, it has become easier. Instead of having to remove an instrument pack, then dismantle the potentially-fragile speedometer, the correction can be made easily using a laptop, without having to get one’s hands dirty.

Our buying habits are also making falsifying mileages more attractive. In olden days, most cases of clocking were intended to enhance the immediate pre-sale value of the car. In recent years, with private sales being driven by finance deals, many of which have strict mileage limits, mileages are being falsified to circumvent the strict financial penalties, calculated on a per-mile basis.

Yet, the issue is rising and fast. The Office of Fair Trading estimated that ‘clocking’ cost the public £510million in 2010. In 2017, The Times newspaper has been quoted that the cost is likely to have almost doubled.

The legal situation

From what we can establish, at the time of writing, adjusting a vehicle’s mileage for whatever reason remains legal, provided that it is proven the operation is not done for fraudulent purposes and is disclosed, when the vehicle is sold. Yet, a number of prominent organisations are calling for the practice to be outlawed completely and the EU says that it is planning to do so from next year, although we could not find any formal statements.

We note that the Vehicle Remarketing Association, for example, is lobbying for regulation, rather than an outright ban but, as with any type of regulation, the devil will be in the detail and how it is policed. In the meantime, the best advice that we can give is to be ultra wary of clocking, if you are seeking a used vehicle.

In a future blog, we shall look at modern techniques that can be used to identify higher than recorded mileages.

About 

Rob Marshall has served as GEM Motoring Assists’ technical advisor, since 2009, and has provided many hundreds of members with impartial and free one-to-one advice, in their hours of need. He started working on cars from the age of ten years-old and has bought, repaired, traded and sold them ever since. While he holds a variety of mechanical and bodywork repair skills and experience, having worked within the motor sales and repair businesses, he is also involved actively within the motoring media, since supplying BBC Top Gear with a car in 1997. Today, Rob contributes to a wide range of motoring publications, from Car Mechanics to Classic and Sports Car magazine.