Councils across the UK warn of surge in car clocking with millions of miles knocked off 1.7 million vehicles by dodgy traders and companies operating within the passenger transport industry
Motorists are at a greater risk than ever of buying dangerous used cars with false mileage after a surge in ‘clocking’ which has seen rogue car dealers knock off millions of miles on vehicles, councils warn today. Latest industry figures show clocking – where the mileage is reduced to increase a vehicle’s resale value – increased by 10 per cent from March 2015 to October 2015.
Car clocking – which is seen as a “victimless crime” – leaves honest consumers not only a victim of fraud by buying overpriced vehicles, but they are also at risk as car clocking could hide serious mechanical problems on vehicles. The tampering with the ECU and electronic systems on vehicles pose a genuine risk to owners of clocked vehicles and other road users. For example, clocking can lead to safety problems, especially if a vehicle appears as if it isn’t due a service when it actually is. It could also disguise the need for a major mechanical repair, leaving buyers with a hefty bill if something does go wrong.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Car clocking is major fraud that can affect anyone who buys a used car with fake documents, and can have dangerous implications.
“Unsuspecting buyers can be duped into paying over the odds for a vehicle with false mileage and in poorer condition, which could put passengers’ safety at risk and lead to expensive repair bills.
“With incorrect mileage displayed, general servicing, which includes brake tests and oil changes, will not be carried out when it is due and may cause vehicle failure. The manufacturer’s warranty is also likely to be void if the car is discovered to have been clocked.
“With up to 1.7 million clocked and potentially dangerous vehicles on UK roads, anyone buying a second-hand car should make as many checks as they can to ensure that the vehicle is showing its true mileage.
The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, urging the public to check a vehicle’s history thoroughly before buying it to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
Due to the serious risks posed to the public and the significant jump in the amount of vehicles being clocked, the LGA is now calling for a proposed EU ban on companies providing “mileage correction” services to be retained under UK laws and brought forward from the current planned date of May 2018. An existing legal loophole means that while knowingly selling a clocked car without disclosing it is fraud, it is not illegal to alter the odometer’s mileage.
Just to interject, altering a vehicles’ odometer is only legal if the ‘mileage correction’ service carries out all the correct checks to ensure the new altered mileage reading is genuine. If the person requesting the ‘mileage correction’ is doing so to lower the mileage to a false reading, the person or company is committing multiple offences – insurance fraud, tax and accountancy fraud, leasing/PCP/finance fraud, to name a few.
The LGA is also calling for mileage correction devices – widely available for sale online for about £120 – to be banned to help reduce clocking. Council trading standards teams nationwide have helped to secure jail sentences for rogue car dealers and individual sellers in recent clocking prosecutions.
- Five men from the same family were jailed for a total of 18 years and three months for conspiring to clock more than four million miles off cars in a professional car clocking operation. Mileages on vehicles had been lowered by as much as 125,000 miles. The case is believed to be the biggest investigation into car clocking that Birmingham Trading Standards has carried out
- Nottingham City Council Trading Standards investigated two car dealers who were each jailed for 15 months after clocking 13 cars by more than one million miles in a case sparked from a consumer complaint
- A used car dealer was jailed for a year for clocking cars and forging documents in a prosecution brought by Warwickshire County Council’s Trading Standards. The case included selling an Audi TT with the mileage advertised incorrectly as 79,000, when it was actually 147,464.
Rogue car dealers and private sellers can increase a vehicle’s value by thousands of pounds by reducing the displayed mileage to make them look less well used and more desirable. For example, taking off 60,000 miles on a Range Rover Evoque or an Audi A3 increases their value by £4,000. Doing the same with a Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Golf increases their value by about £3,000 and £2,500, respectively.
Mr Blackburn, continued: “Clocking is harming both reputable used car dealers and consumers, and unless the proposed EU ban on mileage correction services is brought forward and made part of UK law, thousands more cars will continue to be clocked over the next two years, jeopardising the safety of cars on UK roads.
“The Government needs to address this and introduce legislation to ban the sale of mileage correction devices, which can only be fuelling the big rise in clocking.
“Trading Standards teams across the country often receive more complaints about used cars than anything else and spend time and resources helping traders comply with the law.
“But councils won’t hesitate to prosecute any car dealer or private seller who shows a blatant disregard for safety and consumer rights by clocking cars – they can face hefty fines and a prison sentence, as well as damaging their reputation.”
However, an investigation by LicensedTransportUncovered.com (LTU) have found hundreds of private hire, executive/chauffeur and limousine vehicles in the northwest of England operating with clocked mileage – estimated to have a minimum of 80 million miles removed from odometers’. In London LTU found one Uber driver had removed 114,000 miles from his Toyota. In another case, a Mercedes-Benz with 180,000 miles off the clock was on sale for £19,850. If the vehicle which had been used in the passenger transport industry had its true mileage disclosed, the car would have been worth £11,000.
LTU regularly sees vehicles with substantial mileage removed – in the worst case 460,000 miles had been removed from one vehicle. Chris Hargreaves, an investigative journalist and head of press and PR at LTU, said: “Clocking within the private hire industry has reached epidemic proportions. The 330 plus clocked vehicles we found had about 80 million miles removed, but that was just in the northwest. Across the country hundreds of millions of miles must have been wiped out.”
Mr Hargreaves believes the lease hire industry, used by many drivers or minicab operators, is turning a blind eye to the problem. “Reputable leasing companies are giving out lease agreements based on as little as 10,000 miles a year – 27.3 miles a day. In most areas a licensed vehicle has to be doing at least 1,000 miles a week to make any money. Suppliers to the industry are failing on an industrial scale to carry out even basic due diligence.”
Uber driver had removed 114,000 miles from his Toyota – courtesy of Ian Parrot via Twitter.com
In short, the safety implications involved in clocking passenger transport vehicles are immeasurable. Nick Lloyd, RoSPA’s road safety manager, said: “To ensure safe and reliable motoring, manufacturers set very specific time and mileage service intervals.
“Due to the high mileage driven by taxis, private hire vehicles and limousines, it is absolutely vital that they are serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s schedule to ensure the mechanical safety of the vehicle. Any clocking of the vehicle where the mileage is tampered with is not only illegal but can place the driver, passenger and other road users’ lives at risk.”
A spokesman for Uber said: “The licensed drivers that use the Uber app supply their own cars. These cars have all been licensed for private hire and have been inspected by the local regulator and deemed safe. Cars also have to pass an MOT test every six months.”
This statement to The Times by Uber is disappointing. Uber was contacted by LicensedTransportUncovered.com for a comment about the above clocked vehicle (pictured) which was featured in a recent article in The Times newspaper. Uber was unable to respond formally prior to publication, but has confirmed ‘it takes matters of fraud very seriously’ and will respond in due course with a full statement.
Car Clocking Convictions and upcoming trials
The LGA highlighted a number of recent cases where prosecutions resulted in successful convictions. In May 2016, two Nottingham car dealers who clocked 13 cars by more than one million miles were each jailed for 15 months. The pair, who sold the cars with fake MOT certificates and service histories, were each ordered to pay £20,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The case was sparked from a consumer complaint to Nottingham City Council Trading Standards. Their court case follows one in April 2016 when two brothers from Nottingham clocked cars, sold them on, often with fake MOTs, and used the bank accounts of their dead grandparents to get false tax discs. The pair were jailed for 18 months.
Also, a family were jailed for a total of 18 years and three months for conspiring to clock more than four million miles off cars in a professional car clocking operation. Mileages on vehicles had been lowered by as much as 125,000 miles. The case is believed to be the biggest investigation into car clocking that Birmingham Trading Standards has carried out.
Finally, the LGA highlighted to journalists in their press release that it’s not only dodgy motor traders who are being pursued and taken to court by Trading Standards for car clocking. In the first known case of its kind, Cheshire based Chauffeur Company PCS Chauffeurs have been charged in connection with a “substantial” car clocking case brought by Warrington Trading Standards. The company, PCS Events Limited and seven individuals, including the Murphy family who own the firm appeared in court in March 2016 to deny the charges, resulting in a trial date being set for 9 January 2017.
It is also believed that investigations have been underway into the passenger transport industry for some time now, admittedly on a fragmented approach. Sources close to a number of active ongoing investigations have confirmed a new approach. Not only are they targeting the clockers, but where staff or drivers turn a blind eye to clocking they are now building cases against them as well. In fact, it has been claimed that drivers suspected of turning a blind eye have been put under covert surveillance over the past two years, with investigators determined to hold drivers as well as operators to account, and where appropriate bring criminal proceedings against drivers.
LicensedTransportUncovered.com, head of intelligence and investigations, The Secret Squirrel, says, “We are repeatedly seeing mileage discrepancies on leased vehicles and ones that have been financed through a lease purchase or higher purchase agreement. In fact over 80 million miles have
“These vehicles don’t belong to the passenger transport company or owner drivers whilst under these agreements and remain the property of the leasing or finance company. There is a misconception that it is not illegal to “clock” a vehicle as it only becomes an offence once the vehicle is sold-on with tampered mileage.
“This misconception is wrong. If you turn a blind eye to car clocking or are actively involved as an owner driver you are complicit in a conspiracy to defraud a leasing / finance company, insurer or manufacturer whilst that vehicle is under your control. Obviously, once the vehicle is sold-on you then commit further offences.”
The Squirrel concluded: “In the vast majority of cases where a passenger transport company own their fleet via lease or finance, clocking the odometer cannot be achieved without the drivers being complicit and agreeing to turn a blind eye. As a driver you need to consider not your own safety, but your liberty – maximum ten-year prison sentence for conspiracy to defraud up to £1 million fraud, with cases over £1m carrying a minimum ten-year sentence.”
HPI, which provides car history checks, says clocking has increased by 10 per cent between March 2015 and October 2015. It says there could be 1.7 million clocked and potentially dangerous cars on UK roads – it is estimated car clocking costs the UK £850 million a year.