An altered analog odometer. Notice how the digits don't align properly.
Altered analog odometer. Note how the digits don’t align.

According to federal prosecutors, Beau Michael Guidry of Baton Rouge, LA., the owner of Affordable Imports in Denham Springs, LA. purchased high-mileage motor vehicles online through eBay and from wholesale automobile auctions in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

At that time Guidry resold the vehicles at his lot or on eBay, many of the vehicles were over ten-years old. That’s an important milestone as many used car buyers know because Guidry was not required certify in writing the accuracy of the mileage.

You may have your heart set on that Ford or GM truck, your kid may need a set of wheels and you’re thinking about a Honda or Nissan — there’s this great deal at the local used car lot or the nearby AutoNation. On the other hand, you saw this great deal on eBay or your next door neighbor says he has a friend of a friend. Hey, you’re a big boy or girl, you know the risks. As long as it’s a fair deal.

Yeah, sure — these “as is” sales are the stuff of legend – with caveat emptor being the rule of the road and buyers well advised to have a mechanic check out the auto before handing over the purchase price. More than a few so-called cherries have proven to be held together with chewing gum or rubber bands, or were found floating in some swamp after a hurricane. The funny thing about the lore of used car sales is that a lot of wannabe hustlers sort of miss the part about how you can’t engage in affirmative fraud when touting the virtues of your wares.

It seems that Guidry had this thing about jiggering the odometers of some of the items that he sold. In fact, according to the Feds, some of the vehicles that he sold had odometers that were rolled back as much as 147,000 miles. There’s this peculiar problem with the old rollback: Each time you alter an odometer with intent to change the mileage on the odometer, you violate federal law. Surprise — it could be a felony.

Used car sales? Mileage rollbacks? These are the stuff of federal criminal prosecutions? Hey, you better believe it – and, for my money, I prefer seeing our tax dollars going into that protect folks who can least afford to be ripped off when they’re in desperate need of a car to take them back and forth to work or to shuttle their kids to school. And let’s not forget that fudging the mileage of a used car raises dangerous road safety issues — particularly when such mischief sets off a cascade of supporting documentation that is also filled with lies.

On November 29, 2012, Guidry was sentenced to 20 months in prison and a term of one year of supervised release during which he cannot be involved in the sale of motor vehicles. Also, he was ordered to pay $72,805.51 in restitution to the victims of his crimes.

NOTE: In light of the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the concerns raised in this article in May 2012 are now even more on point.

Doc’s opinion is: Tampering with an odometer is a federal offense. Basically the law says a vehicles odometer will not be tampered with. Federal odometer laws only require accurate mileage recording on vehicles up to 10 years old. Most states like mine (Florida) will place the word “Exempt” on a vehicles title after it’s exempt from this federal requirement. Though an actual mileage title and supporting documentation can be registered to a new owner as actual miles by request at the time of transfer.

It’s obvious that many dealers think they cant be arrested and prosecuted for tampering with an “Exempt” odometer. However it’s still against the law, and as this article explains, a person tampering with an odometer can and will go to Prison. It’s not worth the extra $$ to risk prison and civil suits related to whipping that cars clock back.

On top of that, an older car with high mileage is still very desirable if it has been routinely maintained. Though the book value will be much lower.