What Is an Odometer Disclosure Statement?

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Odemeter (Photo: @lynnkeen via Twenty20)
The average new car buyer keeps their vehicle for around six to eight years, but today’s vehicles can often last 20 years or longer when they’re treated right. That means a most vehicles will have two or more owners in their lifecycle, and a sales transaction happens for that ownership change. Accurate documentation is necessary to complete that transaction, and one of those documents is an Odometer Disclosure Statement.
What is an Odometer Disclosure Statement, why is it necessary, and how can you check its accuracy? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is an Odometer Disclosure Statement?

Did you know it’s a federal law that an odometer can’t be tampered with? You can’t disconnect, alter, or reset an odometer for the purpose of changing the mileage on the display, according to the NHTSA. Yet, fraudsters are everywhere and one of their tricks is to “roll back” the car’s mileage so it’s more attractive to buyers and they can get a higher price.
An Odometer Disclosure Statement is a legally binding document that provides an accurate mileage on the odometer at the time the car changes hands from the seller to the purchaser. And if the mileage is known to be incorrect, it must be indicated on the statement.
Odometer Disclosure Statements are required for all vehicles under 10 years old.

Why Is It Important?

Cars aren’t cheap, and an odometer that shows 100,000 miles lower than the actual mileage can mean you’re buying a car with way more wear and tear than you expect. For newer cars, even 10,000 or 20,000 miles difference can have a serious effect on the car’s value. The buyer could be out of pocket thousands of dollars from a shady transaction.
Keep in mind that an odometer might be different than the actual mileage for legitimate reasons. For digital instrument clusters, for example, a replacement under warranty might reset the odometer to 0 miles. By disclosing the alteration, a car owner is able to sell their vehicle with transparency.

The Penalty for a Fraudulent Odometer Disclosure Statement

Under the federal odometer law, 49 U.S.C. Chapter 327, anyone caught committing fraud by not disclosing altered mileage is subject to penalty. That can be $1,500 or more, up to the value of the actual damages including legal fees.

How to Get an Odometer Disclosure Statement

Odometer Disclosure Statements are required in some capacity from every state, and the form can be found on the Department of Motor Vehicles site in your jurisdiction. Some states will direct you to use the federal form while others have created their own document to complete. You can locate the form for your state here.
A fully completed form includes the buyer’s and seller’s personal information, the date of certification, the year, make, model, VIN, and the accurate mileage as of the date of certification.

Can You Be Sure the Mileage Is Accurate?

If you’re buying a car that’s under 10 years old, you must receive an Odometer Disclosure Statement when you buy the vehicle. But how can you be sure that the mileage on the form is true? Could a fraudster lie on the statement? It’s possible.
However, you can help verify the mileage by purchasing a vehicle history report from places like Carfax or Bumper. A vehicle history report can expose gaps in ownership or flag odometer issues, or it can reinforce that the mileage is consistent with the vehicle’s history.