How to spot if a car has been clocked?
Clocking is a practice whereby the odometer of the car – the one that measures the total kilometres (or miles, if it’s a UK import or older model) the vehicle has covered – is ‘wound back’ to show a lower figure than the car has actually covered. It’s an illegal practice and one that is immoral, too; misrepresenting the mileage a used car has covered could be potentially dangerous for a buyer, if they’re not aware the brakes or suspension or other systems might actually be a lot older and more worn than the seller is letting on.
Since the advent of digital instrument clusters, the process of clocking was supposed to be harder but it can still happen. Here are some ways of avoiding buying a car which may be clocked…
- Get the car’s history checked
Go to www.cartell.ie and it will take any car’s registration plate and, for €10, check its history and mileage, or – for €25 – it’ll also run checks on outstanding finance and HPI UK, covering imports as well as Irish cars. It’s your first port of call for making sure the kilometres showing on that used car you’re interested in are valid. Remember to state clearly whether the car you are looking at is showing its overall distance covered in miles or kilometres, as this will make a difference to the readings otherwise.
- Check the past NCTs
Every time a car goes in for its National Car Test, the mileage should be recorded. You can then check this mileage year on year to see what’s happening. What you’re looking for here is consistency; year on year, the mileage increases should be reasonably similar, unless a car has had lots of owners of varying types (i.e. a low annual mileage urban driver first and then a national sales executive second). Watch for unusual gaps in the NCT mileage history, watch for unexplained changes in the annual mileage and, most of all, watch for any historic mileage readings that are lower than the car’s current reading.
- How shiny are the steering wheel and pedals? How worn are the seats?
Modern cars take some hammering and don’t show wear like older vehicles used to, but the general condition of a car is a good indicator of its true mileage. Over time, steering wheels and pedals become shiny, smooth and heavily worn through the friction of use by hands and feet – if the car you’re looking at purports to have only done 100,000km but the pedals are almost down to the metal and you can practically see your reflection in the steering wheel’s rim, walk away: it may have been clocked. Similarly, seats eventually sag and wear as people repeatedly get in and out of them, and the one seat that is used on every single journey without fail in any car is the driver’s seat. If the bolsters (side sections) look tired and frayed, or the structure of the chair is compromised, then the low mileage on the odometer is probably not a true reading.
- Full service history
The almost mandatory FSH on a used car not only tells you if the vehicle has been properly maintained during its life, but it is another area where mileage is recorded. It should be listed at each and every service in the service book and/or receipts and paperwork. Worryingly, the service history can be falsified too, so if you’re in any doubt about any of the stamps in the service book, ring the garage in question that was said to have carried out the work – it, too, should have recorded the mileage and will corroborate the vehicle’s true age/usage.
- Take it for a test drive
If the vehicle you’re looking at has a mileage that seems too good to be true, and you’ve still got doubts about it having gone through the four points above and satisfied yourself on each, then take it out for a long test drive. Well-cared-for and low-mileage used cars should not clonk, rattle or groan appreciably, they shouldn’t smoke excessively (especially if they’re turbocharged) and they should feel tight, limber and with good performance. Any indication of anything to the contrary here and it is time to walk away and look for another car.
- Ask questions
If the seller is legitimate, query them on the car’s history and any areas you’re unsure of. Remember, there is actually a valid and legal reason for a car looking like it has been ‘clocked’ for financial gain by an unscrupulous seller, when in fact it hasn’t – sometimes, cars with digital instrument clusters can have a total failure of said component and the only way to sort it is to buy a new cluster. This will have to be coded to the car at the time of the repair, but inputting the mileage of the old cluster is going to be next to impossible unless the owner has a photographic memory. However, if this sort of legitimate cluster repair has been carried out, there should be evidence of it in the car’s history and an honest seller would tell you about this, too.