How to Reset Miles on a Car? Here is What You Need to Know

  • By: Sean Cooper
  • Date: December 1, 2022

If you are looking to purchase a used vehicle or have one that is starting to accumulate some miles, you may want to know more about the odometer. After all, a vehicle’s mileage is a crucial value-determinant factor! Do you know how to reset miles on a car, if or when you should, or if it’s even legal?

While intentionally resting an odometer remains an illegal practice, learning how to fix a malfunctioning odometer, understanding what you can and can’t do, and being able to spot an odometer on a vehicle that has been tampered with can all prove very useful, especially when dealing with second-hand vehicles.

As experts, we want to discuss more on what an odometer is, how it functions, when and how you can reset it, how to identify one that has been reset, and more.

What is an odometer?

Located on the instrument cluster on a car’s dashboard, the odometer is a device that tracks the distance your vehicle has traveled. In America, this data is measured in miles (mileage), whereas in other countries, the distance is measured in kilometers (kilometrage). Older cars feature analog odometers while newer cars use digital odometers and a computerized system to report mileage.

What is a trip odometer?

A trip odometer is different from the odometer because it only records the distance covered since the last reset. By resetting your trip odometer, you are simply clearing whatever number was previously stored. On the other hand, the odometer records all the distances a vehicle has covered regardless of the number of times it’s been reset.

Can you reset the main odometer back to zero?

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As earlier explained, it’s illegal to reset the odometer! Rolling back the miles on a vehicle has been a popular strategy employed by criminal car sellers for years. It is imperative to note that it’s an infringement of federal regulations to tamper with the odometer to alter a vehicle’s real mileage.

While this sneaky habit was fairly common during the mechanical odometer era, tampering with a digital odometer is even more evil because it can be very hard to detect!

Besides civil and state penalties, those who commit this particular crime will certainly spend lots of years in federal prison! This criminal act is more likely to happen with small, unscrupulous car dealers, or selfish individuals looking to give a car’s overall value a significant boost!

It’s also imperative to note that disconnecting an odometer, so it doesn’t store mileage is equally considered tampering!

Do odometers malfunction?

While it’s very rare, it does happen. Most odometers in older cars record their reading computed by a magnetic sensor that is installed close to the gearbox on a toothed wheel. Either the magnetic sensor or even the odometer itself can get damaged and malfunction.

On newer cars, the digital screen in the instrument panel can encounter problems. It’s highly recommended that any odometer issues are tackled by experts who know and understand the legal requirements.

If possible, your professional mechanic will transfer the current mileage data onto the replacement unit, especially when dealing with digital odometers. Reputable meter shops; odometer repair businesses will demand access to both the old and new odometers to ensure a lawful, accurate, and proper repair!

Will a replacement engine reset the odometer?

No. changing your car’s engine does not, in any way, reset its mileage. After all, your vehicle’s odometer is not connected to its engine. Instead, it’s connected to the front wheel hub. 

Can a digital odometer be reset?

Yes. all types of odometers, whether mechanical or digital, can be altered. There are some special equipment and tools needed to tamper with digital odometers that leave very little evidence. Fraudsters will either edit the numbers on the display or replace the memory chip with one that has less mileage on it. 

However, it’s imperative to note that mileage information is kept in other vehicle systems such as the powertrain control module, a qualified technician will know exactly where to look for the correct data!

How can you tell if an odometer has been reset?

While it’s possible to identify an odometer that’s been tampered with, it takes lots of hard work. You will want to start with the basics. Always check the vehicle history report. Usually, an odometer or mileage problem will be reported here.

For a small fee, you can obtain a copy of the car’s history report from sites such as AutoCheck and CARFAX. This report details the car’s ownership history, title branding, accidents as well as odometer readings at different intervals in a car’s lifespan. If the most recent reading is higher compared to what the seller shows, chances are high that they’ve tampered with the device!

You also want to conduct a thorough inspection of the car on your own. If the vehicle shows low mileage but seems to have lots of wear and tear on key components such as the steering wheel, tires, seats, and pedals, it could be an indication that something is not alright!

What’s more, review the vehicle documents and see whether everything adds up. In this case, review the title certificate. It should be an original document because scammers may use fake titles to display false mileage figures.

The title certificate should give you a baseline mileage number. So if there are discrepancies with the odometer readings, this should be a red flag!

If you are ever unsure whether a car’s odometer has been tampered with or not, don’t hesitate to consult a professional! If your mechanic spots evidence of odometer tampering or establishes that the car’s condition isn’t as good as the seller purports, it may be a good idea to walk away.

Is it worth purchasing a car with an altered odometer?

As you may have already guessed, buying a vehicle with a false odometer reading could mean its overall condition isn’t as great as you may think. And this could easily result in expensive repairs and maintenance along the line, which you aren’t prepared to deal with. Simply put, if you are looking to buy a car, it’s advisable to avoid one with a tampered odometer!

Before you even think about parting with your hard-earned money for any used car, please make sure you know what you’re buying by getting a vehicle history report you can trust like one from EpicVIN. If you’re buying from a dealer they should provide one, but if they don’t, get your own and it could save you a fortune in the long run.

Odometer Frequently Asked Questions:

What is an odometer rollback?

An odometer rollback happens when an individual tampers with a car’s odometer readings to make it appear that the vehicle has less mileage than it actually has.

What is the normal odometer reading?

There is nothing like standard or normal odometer readings. Depending on a particular car’s current age and how much the owner drives, cars can rack up to 300,000 miles or more in mileage.

How common is odometer fraud today?

Thanks to the introduction of advanced car computers as well as digital odometers, altering a car’s mileage has become more complicated, but not entirely impossible. The NHTSA reports that nearly 452,000 vehicles are sold annually in the USA with incorrect mileage readings!

How do you get permission to alter your odometer?

You don’t need any specific permission to reset your odometer. However, if you are selling a car with a tampered odometer, you are breaking the law! It’s always a good idea to consult an expert should you have any questions regarding changing your odometer mileage.