Task Force Cracks Down on 'Clockers'

By Kevin Doak

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration is focusing its odometer fraud enforcement unit on the Norteast region of the United States. A Federal Odometer Task Force was established this summer to police regulations in New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, - specifically around Philadelphia. Richard Morse, chief of odometer fraud investigation for NHTSA, said the move was necessary because odometer spinning in that part of the country is out of control.

"Almost every car coming out of there is clocked," he said. "There are thousands and thousands." Three state troopers will work out of NHTSA's Washington, D.C. office for one year. If the task force is effective, the U.S. Congress will likely continue to fund the program for another year with another group of troopers. This year's NHTSA enforcement staff is made up of officers from Florida, Colorado and Utah.

"They're mine for a year and they're deputized U.S. Marshals – federal agents," Morse said. "They're going to clean up that mess."

He added that in only the two months that the task force has been working, cases are already being prepared against violators of odometer fraud.

"Auctions and auto dealers know (the task force) is in existence because they're flooding the area with inquiries", Morse said.

The group is looking at odometer fraud operations that are tampering with 10 to 20 cars per week. At that rate, Morse said, an operation can generate between $40,000 and $80,000 per Week in illegal profit. Rolling back the odometer can add thousands of dollars to the selling price of a vehicle. Many of these clocked autos are late models that have served in business fleets. They average 32,000 miles per year on the road, compared with 10,000 to 15,000 miles for the same car used for personal travel.

"There is a $4,000 difference (in resale value) on a three-year-old car with 90,000 miles, compared with the same car at 35,000 miles," he said.

The task force is a supportive measure for the agency's existing four regional regulators. Morse said the Northeast has so many odometer spinners, one person could not handle the entire region.

C N W Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore., reported that between 3 and 4 percent of the 30 million-plus used cars traded in 1997 had their odometers rolled back – that's more than 1 million vehicles.

(Article originally published in the Used Car News, October 22, 1998)

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