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I am shopping for a used car (2006 Volvo XC90) and encountered the following situation:

The car itself has odometer reading 110k miles. I intend to appraise and price at as if a 110k car. The seller claims that the car in fact has about 85k miles on it, but at one point the odometer failed, and was replaced with a used odometer (to save money) which at the time had 105k miles or so.

The owner seems reasonably trustworthy and provided me with extensive records for the servicing of the car. An independent mechanic I spoke to said that he hadn't heard of such a thing, and they could not verify the "true mileage" of the car (beyond what the odometer says).

The situation by itself does not bother me. What concerns me is that:

  • I should treat this situation as a red flag indicative of other problems with the seller.
  • Even if I manage to get the odometer fixed and correct the mileage, when I attempt to sell the car down the line, I will have to explain this situation.

I lack the expertise to judge this situation. Is it common for an incorrect odometer reading to come about like this? Is it a minor issue, or is it a serious problem? Is the story I was told by the seller plausible?

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When you goto sell it, it will have 25K extra miles on it and the associated depreciation. How does that make you feel? I would move on personally. – DucatiKiller Feb 2 at 3:50
    
Volvos really do this - if you change the instrument panel the odometer readings will be changed, as the value is stored inside the panel itself. However you have no way of checking if the seller is lying, so consider that what the odometer is currently showing is closer to truth. – I have no idea what I'm doing Feb 2 at 7:45
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Unless you can see service/MOT records, where the odometer value is usually saved. – I have no idea what I'm doing Feb 2 at 7:49
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@Chris H Well, the OP is looking at a Volvo. Main question if they still do, as it used to be like that on the older models as well. Not a very clever solution. – I have no idea what I'm doing Feb 2 at 11:14
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Instrument panel swaps and incorrect odo aren't a big deal. Pretty common as panels/odos do fail and new ones are obscenely expensive. Swapping a used one in is a normal procedure. Licensing agencies often have specific rules about documenting it. – Brian Knoblauch Feb 2 at 18:46

The problem is, you have to take the seller at his word, and that's just not the way business transactions work. He has an obvious incentive to sell the car with a lower mileage, and regardless of what a good guy he is, can't be trusted. If you really like the car, and can't find something comparable from another seller, you might continue to press your luck with this guy, but one "small issue" seems to have a way of multiplying. I would walk away. There are too many scams out there to worry about.

To your second point, there's no way of "getting the mileage fixed" based on what would then be only your word. That's called fraud, and would be illegal. If you did it and a buyer didn't notice, you'd be open for criminal charges. If you tried to explain it, you would just be laughed at.

Basically, the seller bought himself a very expensive instrument cluster, and that's his problem.

Of course, this is all primarily opinion based.

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Also makes you wonder, if this guy was so cheap as to get his odometer repaired like that, what else has he done (or not done) to this car? – Becuzz Feb 1 at 20:00
    
I highly doubt that altering the odometer readings to reflect the real value in such a situation where your instrument panel died is illegal. It's a thin line, but it's only illegal to hide the real value. – I have no idea what I'm doing Feb 2 at 7:47
    
@IhavenoideawhatI'mdoing, my point was, at that point in time, there's no difference between doing it maliciously and with good intentions other than the OP's word. He would have no way of proving why he was rolling back the odometer, and would have no defense against a complaint. I agree with you, but with no way to prove what you're doing, you don't have a legal standing. If the seller had adjusted the miles at the time of replacement or very soon thereafter, I would agree with you completely. – JPhi1618 Feb 2 at 13:41
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you have to take the seller at his word, and that's just not the way business transactions work Isn't that exactly how business transactions work? There are few verifiable facts about used cars, the DMV may know the last registered mileage, he might have verifiable service records, and accident damage might show up in a VIN report, but most of the car's history comes down to the seller's word. Maybe he hit a cow and he and his buddy replaced the bumper and "aligned" the frame at home. – Johnny Feb 2 at 16:56
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@Johnny, You're right, but depending on how big of a value difference this 25k miles makes, he better have something other than hand-written notes about the service and mileage history. You can take his word, but then you have to convince the next person about what happened, or you eat that 25k miles of depreciation. – JPhi1618 Feb 2 at 21:00

The story is indeed plausible, and a quick google search indicates instrument clusters failures are not uncommon for that vehicle. As with any used car, I would have your mechanic inspect the car, though since it is a relatively small difference between claimed and displayed mileage, there really isn't a good way to disprove the sellers story.

If the seller has maintenance records, they should pretty clearly indicate a change in mileage around the time of the swap.

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I'm not sure I'd call a ~30% difference "relatively small" – gabe3886 Feb 2 at 9:32
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I would expect the invoice for the cluster replacement should record the original mileage, and have a notation about the new odometer reading. If the seller doesn't have that, then he's caused his own problem. – TMN Feb 2 at 13:05
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@gabe3896 relatively small for the sake of the argument that there will be no discernible wear and tear over 25k miles, especially for a vehicle that could easily reach 250k+ miles. – MooseLucifer Feb 2 at 14:30
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@MooseLucifer - While there might be no discernible wear over the 25k miles, the value of the car takes a hit every time it rolls past a 10k milestone. If the value isn't accounted for in the sale price for the worse of the two readings, then the OP is getting a bum deal. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Feb 4 at 23:23
    
@paulster2 obviously value and mileage have in inverse relationship, my original post was only stating a mechanic wouldn't be able to verify the story. – MooseLucifer Feb 10 at 17:24

In the UK, you can use the registration number of a vehicle along with the manufacturer and obtain a complete MOT history which includes mileage readings. If you have something similar where you are, try doing this. You would be looking for consistent mileage increases which approach but do not exceed 80k miles. Then you would observe a jump. Possibly accompanied by a previous failure.

One of my cars has this same issue. It's a 1997 Golf which is indicating 95k miles. When we purchased it, it was indicating 55k miles. However, the seller explained that at some point in the past, the instrument cluster had failed and replaced. The history of the car and mileages recorded at each service back this up. The car is closer to 150k but the clocks obviously would lead you to believe otherwise.

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I don't know about Volvos, but speaking as a former Saab Automobile engineer I'd say there's a good chance the correct odometer reading is stored elsewhere in the car (in another ECU). A Volvo technician should be able to figure it out. Also, it's VERY hard to "fix" the odometer. Close to impossible, in fact. You'd most likely have to buy a new one (which is what the current owner should have done, really). I'd keep shopping if I were you.

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Isn't that exactly what the seller claims? He didn't "fix" the odometer, but replaced it with another one? It's likely that the whole instrument cluster was replaced as a single unit. – Luke Feb 2 at 20:59
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A new panel costs over $1000, a used one costs $150 - $200. If I were repairing a 10 year old car, I'd buy a used one too rather than spend nearly 20% of the book value of the car on a brand new replacement part. – Johnny Feb 2 at 22:50
    
@Luke yes, but he replaced it with a used one, not a new one. If it were a Saab, you would have gotten a new cluster, read the vehicle's current odometer standing from another ECU, program the cluster to match the standing and fit it. You COULD get a used one and do the same thing, but resetting its odometer is a major pain. I would be surprised if Volvo doesn't also store the current odometer reading outside of the cluster. – Emil Fors Feb 3 at 8:48
    
So are you saying it's easy to add miles to an odometer but difficult to remove them? Or that it's easy to set an initial number (when the odometer has not yet been been used) but difficult to reset a used one? – Luke Feb 6 at 6:39
    
The clusters I worked with were resettable until the odometer reached 50 miles or so (can't remember the exact figure), which made it possible to do away with any racked up mileage from the production process. Once that limit was reached, you first had to write and flash a special version of the cluster software that basically disregarded from above mentioned limit. And that was way easier said than done. – Emil Fors Feb 7 at 11:07

In many states upon transfer the title is supposed to record the fact that the odometer doesn't show actual mileage. You can expect this will adversely impact the value of the car in the future, regardless of how believable you find the seller's explanation.

Essentially, whatever he saved with a used instrument cluster is now offset by the impairment that may be required (depending on the state) on the title.

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