Investigation: Car buyers clocking their own cars

The tables have been turned on dealers as a growing number of car buyers have been found to be clocking their own cars, an Autoblog investigation can reveal.

In an attempt to avoid high mileage fees charged when buyers exceed the limits on personal contract purchases (PCP) finance deals, many owners are using unscrupulous "mileage correction" firms to wind back clocks.

At the beginning of PCPs a mileage limit is set by the finance company for the term of the agreement – if that limit is exceeded the owner can be charged around 12p per mile for every mile strayed over it.

These charges can soon rack up and Autoblog has discovered many car owners are using devious tactics to get away without paying.

One dealer – who wanted to remain anonymous – told us how he was caught out. He knew the owner of the VW Golf he sold on a PCP deal well so when he revisited his showroom to trade up to a Passat the usual checks weren't carried out. It was only when the dealer tried to sell the Golf on that he discovered it had been clocked.

And the real kick in the teeth is because the buyer is not selling the car to the dealer, simply handing it back, he hasn't done anything illegal. Only when the dealer goes to sell the car on is the law broken.

The dealer said: "At the end of the day I never imagined a customer would clock a car. I thought that was a trade thing. Apparently not anymore."

So who is doing the clocking? Well, a simple web search reveals countless "mileage correction" companies. We contacted 10 of them and explained we had inadvertently strayed over our PCP's mileage ceiling and wanted to correct it.

Five replied via email saying it wouldn't be a problem and three said they would do it if we "told them it was to correct an error". Only two refused to do the work.

With PCPs now the most popular way to buy new cars, it's likely the problems are only likely to get worse. In 2010 they accounted for 59.8 per cent of the market with £6.3bn advanced to buyers.

"PCPs have been the success story of the recession," said Paul Harrison, head of motor finance at the FLA. "In 2006 less than 40 per cent of finance was for PCPs - now it's nearer 60 per cent."

An HPI Check is one way you can spot a clocked car and the firm is monitoring this growing problem carefully.

"This could potentially be a growing issue," said HPI's Alan Bishop. "Consumers clocking cars is not a new phenomenon but it is fair to say that with the tools to adjust mileages so easily available on the web, consumers can get the job done much more easily than previously.

"Unfortunately some members of the public regard this type of fraud as a victimless crime. Clearly that is not the case – the victim is the dealer and potentially their next customer."

So is there a solution? Bishop thinks so: "It is important to stress clocking services aren't illegal - it's selling a clocked vehicle without declaring the mileage change that breaks the law.

However, it is hard to understand why it is not made illegal. The small number of legitimate cases for mileage adjustment could easily be handled via on official route like an MOT station."

Official mileage adjustments like that would mean the procedure is logged. That data could then be listed on the vehicle's logbook making it obvious to potential purchasers that a mileage correction had taken place. This would protect buyers and dealers – leaving only the unscrupulous clockers with a problem... We hope it's only a matter of time before a scheme like that is introduced.

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