“Marnie” (not her real name) is a young woman in her early 20s working at her first job. She recently bought a used car for $7,000, hoping to get a few years of hassle-free use out of it. But now she takes the bus to work while her car sits in the backyard, destined for the scrap heap. Marnie is the unfortunate victim of odometer fraud.
With spring just around the corner, many people shop around for a set of wheels, and used cars are very popular. In fact, thousands are sold every year in the National Capital Region.
The RCMP has a few words of advice for those thinking of buying a used car: do your homework on the car's history to make sure the odometer isn't lying.
Two car dealers busted
Since new year, police have laid charges against the owners of two small local car lots following a six month investigation into allegations of odometer tampering. Three more area car lots are currently under investigation for the same reason.
Mohamed A. Tirani, owner of A-1 Tire Centre at 1527 Michael St., has been charged with three counts of odometer tampering and two counts of fraud under $5,000. George Edward Scarcella, owner of Affordable Motors at 1640 Laperriere Ave., has been charged with five counts of odometer tampering and five counts of odometer replacement with intention to defraud, as well as five counts of fraud (three over $5,000 and two under $5,000).
The Ottawa RCMP's Federal Enforcement Section is responsible for odometer tampering and replacement under the Weights and Measures Act. According to Cst. Bryan Dufresne, lead investigator for odometer tampering cases in the region, this kind of crime is a big problem in the area.
“A lot of people think that odometer tampering is a big joke, but when you get burned for $5,000 or $6,000, suddenly its not so funny,” says Cst. Dufresne. “We take this kind of fraud very seriously. In fact, car dealers caught tampering with odometers can end up with a criminal record, and never be able to sell vehicles in Ontario and Quebec again.”
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take as a consumer to protect yourself:
Take the car's serial or vehicle identification number (VIN) and the odometer reading. Then get a list of the previous owners from the Ministry of Transportation. A few phone calls to previous owners can help you discover if the odometer reading is correct.
Buy only from dealers who keep kilometre records dating to the initial purchase of the vehicle.
Do your math: a vehicle owner on average racks up between 20,000 to 30,000 km per year. If the kilometres seem too low to be true, be sure to check out the car's history.
Got a lemon?
If you have already purchased a car and suspect that the odometer has been tampered with, there are several organizations you can turn to for help:
Vehicles privately purchased in Ontario: Contact the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council at 1-800-943-6002 or their curbsider hot line 1-888-662-8727.
Vehicles privately purchased in Quebec: Contact the Quebec Consumer Protection Office at 1-888-672-2556.
Vehicle purchased from dealers in the Ottawa of Outauais area: Contact the Ottawa RCMP's Federal Enforcement Section at (613) 998-7514.
For more details, you can call to request a copy of the document “Odometer Fraud, Questions and Answers.”
Cst. Bryan Dufresne