What is a ‘clocked’ vehicle – and why is it a problem?

How many cars on the road have a problem with their recorded mileage do you think? According to vehicle checking website HPI, the answer is 1 in 12 of the cars it checks.

The HPI data is also backed up by other data sources. In December 2018, the RAC recorded 38.2 million vehicles on Britain’s roads.

Vehicle data website Rapid Car Check found that 6.4% of the cars it checked via its free online tool had mileage discrepancies. So, it estimates that there are around 2.5 million cars on the road that issues with recorded mileage.

That’s a lot of cars that might have been deliberately tampered with to give a false impression of condition to improve their appeal to used car buyers.

So, what is clocking, why is it important and how can it affect you when buying a used car?

First, you need to complete some checks on the car you are buying.

View our Used Car Checklist

Read on for more on clocking and how to spot it.

What is clocking?

Clocking is the practice of altering a vehicle’s odometer or milometer to reduce the mileage and, therefore, make the car more appealing to a used car buyer and enhance its value. Clocking is done in a deliberate attempt to defraud a buyer.

Clocking is by no means a new problem. It’s been around for a long time but is now becoming more prevalent. According to industry experts, this is due to the increase in restricted mileage finance agreements.

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Unless you do history checks on the car you’re considering, it’s more difficult to detect that the car has been clocked.
Altering the odometer, or ‘mileage correction’ on a digital odometer, it’s now simply a case of plugging a laptop with the right software into the car’s ECU and winding the clock back to wherever you want it. There are firms who will do this for you for as little as a £100.

Changing the recorded mileage on a car is not illegal but selling the car on without declaring the mileage has been altered is a criminal offence. So too is discovering later that your car has been clocked and you fail to declare the information when you pass it on.

Who clocks and why?

There are legitimate reasons why someone may alter the mileage on a car.

For example, a vehicle owner might reset the odometer from kilometres to miles on an imported car; If the car has been in a collision the speedometer cluster may have been damaged and need to be replaced and the mileage corrected; or there might be instances where the gearing on the car has been changed resulting in the mileage being calibrated incorrectly.

In these instances, the seller must declare that changes have been made to the odometer when they sell the car.

Checking vehicle history is important no matter where you source your used car. It’s especially vital if you’re buying a used car from a private seller.

There’s more and more evidence that consumers are clocking cars so that they don’t break the terms of their PCP finance agreements, which usually include mileage restrictions that carry financial penalties for going over mileage.

These clocked cars will eventually find their way onto the used car market.

Things to look out for

Cars with high mileage tend to have greater wear and tear. There are some clues that can be a giveaway to car clocking, such as:

  • Excessive stone chipping to the front of the car, suggesting high mileage
  • Significant wear to the driver’s controls, which can indicate heavy usage
  • Worn out seat belts, which are durable for a long period of time

You should be suspicious if a low mileage car appears to have a lot of damage as it could be a sign that the car’s been ‘clocked’. It’s hard to prove whether a car has been clocked, but the service history should give a good indication.

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Car history checks

Mileage inconsistencies in a vehicle’s history could mean that the car may have been clocked.

It’s never been easier to check a vehicle’s history online, with organisations like Cap HPI who use MOT data to verify a car’s mileage.

Rapid Car Check is a free online tool that allows you to check mileage and will flag up whether there are any issues.

If you’re serious about the car, don’t use this as your only car check though as there are other full checks to carry out. And remember, the search relies on the registration number of the vehicle, which could have been cloned. So make sure you do a full history check to be satisfied the car is genuine.

Check the paperwork by asking to see the logbook and any available service history and MOT certificates. At the very least there should be a registration document (V5C) because it’s illegal to sell a car without one. If there’s no paperwork to go with the car, alarm bells should be ringing.

There should also be at least some service history, ideally since the car was first registered. A set of MOTs would also be good, so you can verify the car’s mileage and that it increases steadily to what’s displayed on the odometer. If it goes up then suddenly drops, something is clearly not right: the car might have been clocked .

It’s worth investing in a history check via Experian Autocheck or HPI to confirm the car is clear of finance, and not the property of the person trying to sell it to you. Are you confident that it hasn’t been written off then repaired?

View our Used Car Checklist