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This is a bit theoretical question, maybe viable for a wiki.

Suppose you want to buy a 10yo car and among available deals you see one with suspiciously low mileage (e.g. 5'000 km). Seller assures you that the car was bought for his parents and spent 95% time in garage, ideal condition exterior, but no service brochure.

What are the clues that could indicate the real car mileage if it was spoofed?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I'll make this a wiki answer so others can add to it...

The first and most obvious thing is the old saying "if it looks too good to be true, it probably is".

Look at the condition of the interior, particularly the driver's seat and steering wheel. Does the pattern of wear match what you'd expect for the stated mileage?

Paperwork - do they have anything to back up their claims? In the UK, the mileage is recorded at each year's MOT (roadworthyness) test, so that's usually a good reference. Again, if they've 'lost' the paperwork, be suspicious (in recent years they have computerised the MOT system, so you can look up the last few tests for a car)

Personally, I'd avoid a very low milage car just as I'd avoid a very high milage one. Cars don't generally like sitting around for long periods unused - rubber parts perish, things sieze and stick, etc. Go for a decent, honest, average-miles car that looks like it has been looked after.

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Another common place to look at are the pedals. After 5000km, they should appear lightly used, neither brand new (just replaced), nor visibly worn off. –  doppelfish Apr 25 '13 at 20:36
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Pull off the air cleaner ductwork and look at the throttle body plate. If it has a black carbon buildup on it, you can be sure it's been driven much more than 5000km.

For more scientific results, try sending an oil sample to a company like Blackstone Labs. They'll look at the wear characteristics and amounts of trace materials in the oil, and can often tell how much use it's seen based upon which materials are in the oil.

It's possible that they'll be able to verify their low-mileage claim through a service like Carfax as well, but many dealerships and service shops choose not to submit information to Carfax.

I tend to agree with Nick C though. Engines fare much better when they're used regularly. An engine that sits for long periods doesn't circulate oil to all the internal components of the engine, and as the oil settles back into the oil pan, components can begin to rust. As a general rule of thumb, an engine that hasn't been driven in a month is at risk of breaking down. I would lean toward a well-maintained, well-documented, regularly-driven vehicle instead of a 'too good to be true' low-mileage vehicle.

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Were the tires ever changed? Does it have original equipment brand/model/size tires? Are the tires bald or overly worn?

Do the tires look ten years old? Tires should only really last about 5 years and driving on them at ten years old is probably very dangerous. If you end up purchasing the vehicle and you think they are the original tires, change them.

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This brings up another good point. Check the date code of the tires and their state of wear and compare this to what the seller is telling you. If the seller assures you the car is rarely driven, you'd expect older tires, or at least newer tires with essentially no wear. –  mac Apr 24 '13 at 20:24
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Yes you can make out the changes and confirm whether the odometer was rolled back by the following procedures:

  1. Check the Gearshift Lever for wear and tear, if the inscribing is smooth and shiny, avoid it.
  2. Check the pedals (gas, clutch brake) for excessive use
  3. Driver side door sill should not be worn out
  4. Check the oil filler cap for debris and oil gumming.
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