Misleading Mileage: Is your car's odometer working properly?

Misleading Mileage: Is your car's odometer working properly?
Published: Nov. 14, 2012 at 8:39 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2012 at 4:18 AM EST
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(FOX19) - Your car's odometer can help determine your car's value, lease fees, or even affect your warranty. If yours is off, your vehicle could be racking up more miles than you actually drive, and there's no federal law that regulates odometer accuracy.

FOX19 wanted to see if that could really be the case with any car. So we headed to the Kentucky Speedway. We took four FOX19 vehicles: a 2013 SUV, a 2009 SUV, a 2009 sedan, and a 1993 van. First, we measured one mile on the track keeping in mind the shape and angle of it. We then drove each vehicle one mile, one at a time, in the top lane of the track.

Not one was dead on!

The first vehicle came close. It was off by 8 ft. The second vehicle was off the mark by 14 feet. The van overshot the mark by 28 feet. The car overshot it by 29 feet.

Those may all seem like short distances, but Kelly Blue Book's Jack Nerad said it still counts.

"Over the course of time a few feet suddenly become a mile and miles and miles and miles," said Nerad. "So you odometer being inaccurate can be wildly off. Maybe in your favor or maybe not. As a buyer, you have to consider the fact that the vehicle you're looking at may not have accurate mileage."

Over the vehicle's lifetime those nearly 30 feet can mean more than 500 extra miles.

Garrett Myers fixes odometers for a living. He runs Gene's Speedometer in Milford, Ohio.

He admits it's not easy, but there is one way consumers can test their odometers.

"Go maybe 100 miles or 200 and compare that to what you know the trip should actually be," said Myers. "That's the best way because they're usually off by a small percentage so if you take it on a shorter trip that may not show up."

First, make sure your tires are in good shape; improperly inflated or worn tires can throw off your reading. Another possible issue? The gauge could just be calibrated differently.

Nerad said there are only guidelines when it comes to odometer accuracy. The Society of Automotive Engineers calls for a margin of error up to four percent.

In 1972, Congress passed the Federal Odometer Act. It protects consumers against someone tampering with an odometer, but Nerad added that most are off by a small percentage.

"The fact is the rules are kind of wide-ranging," said Nerad. "They're not as specific as say meat in a meat market. The scale in a meat market has to be spot on, but what happens with an odometer is it's not as precise as that because it's not required to be as precise as that because of either state law or federal law."

Myers said if you do suspect a problem, there is a solution.

"There is a module you can install that can take care of that," said Myers. "But you're talking about spending, you know, $150-200. And it's really something that should be the manufacturer's responsibility, in my opinion."

Another sign of an faulty odometer is the wear of the car. Look at the steering wheel at the seats, even check out the tires. An odometer is an indicator of how much the car has been driven so there are most likely signs elsewhere.

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