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How to identify a clocked car

A little later than I intended, here is our Value Ireland Top Tips on how you might be able to identify if a second hand car that you might be thinking of buying might be clocked.

Back in July, the NCA prosecuted 3 garages for the “misleading commercial practice” of car clocking – the practice of reducing, or winding back, the number of miles on a cars odometer to make it seem like its more valuable than it is.

No figures are available for Ireland, that I can find, but it’s estimated that in the UK, 1 in 3 second hand cars sold may be clocked.

When buying a second hand car, particularly privately, you should be extremely wary of what you are buying, and should have the car checked out thoroughly before purchasing. If it’s a private sale, once you drive away after handing over your money, you have no comeback under consumer legislation if you subsequently find something amiss.

Here are some suggestions of things that you can look out for when you’re buying a second hand car with a mind to trying to clock a clocked car:

  • First things first – you can never be 100% sure that a car is or isn’t clocked. All of the tips below are items to watch out for and questions to be asked in order to satisfy yourself that you’ve found out everything possible about the car you’re thinking of buying. Do all these checks before buying, not after, as you may have no recourse once you’ve purchased the car.
  • Check for Internal Wear and Tear – If the car has relatively low mileage but the interior and exterior of the car has a significant amount of wear and tear, then the car may have been clocked, or just very poorly looked after. Either way, this is something to be wary of.
  • What is the wear and tear on the drivers seat in particular look like? Does it look well worn? This can also be a sign of heavy mileage. Does this stack up with the mileage on the clock?
  • Check the pedal rubbers, steering wheel and gear knob of the car you’re thinking of buying – if they appear brand new to you, yet the car is relatively old, this should give you cause to investigate further.
  • Check for External Wear and Tear – Check for lots of chips and/or tar marks on the bonnet of the car – this can be a sign of significant mileage. Has the car been resprayed to cover over these kinds of issues?
  • Check the mileage – and the actual numbers on the odometer (mileometer) – Do the numbers line up perfectly correctly, or are they out of order? This may be a sign that the car has been clocked. Are there fingerprints or scratch marks inside the plastic – does it look like it’s been removed and badly reinstated?
  • Average mileage for petrol cars is estimated to be about 10,000 per year, while diesels can be around 15,000. For the age of car you’re looking at, and the mileage displayed, do the numbers add up (within an acceptable margin of error – 10% to 20% maybe)? There may be valid reasons for any differences, but any suspicion should lead to more questions.
  • Some garages may provide a disclaimer (written or verbal) saying that the mileage cannot be confirmed. This may be legitimate if they’re selling from a trade-in or for other reasons, but that too should raise your suspicion.
  • Get the dealer to confirm the mileage in writing so that you may have recourse in case of problems. If you’re buying on the basis of this confirmation from a dealer, and it turns out to be false, you will have proof for your “misleading commercial practice”.
  • You should find out the history of the car – get the full service history. This should detail the mileage intervals at which services were carried out. If you’re not provided a service history, or if there’s a delay and one shows up suddenly, or if the car is relatively old but the service history documents are newer/cleaner with less wear and tear, you should at least be a little suspicious and try to find out more.
  • Are past NCT certificates available for the car? Ask for them and check the odometer readings on these certificates to verify that the mileage on the odometer is what you might expect to see for a car of the age you’re looking at.
  • Reputable Dealer – If the dealer is a member of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry then he or she should be able to confirm the figures, or at least stand by the figures presented.
  • Use the Internet – Check the car checking websites to see if you can find any extra information on the car. These sites will charge a fee, but if you’re really keen on a particular car, this could be one of the last checks that you could do on the car. Some sites that could assist here might be:
  • If you’re importing a car from the UK, there are similar sites that can provide a history of the car you’re looking into. Some sites that can provide this background check service are:
  • Get the car physically checked by a professional – If you’re very keen on a particular car, you could have the car independently assessed by someone like the AA. They have an AutoCheck service where they’ll run a series of checks on a used car. Obviously this will cost you, but if you’re down to a buy/don’t buy decision on a car, it could be worth the money to reassure yourself.

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