Will modernising vehicle standards prevent clocking?

Clocking, the informal term for rolling back the mileage on a vehicle’s odometer. In the UK adjusting a vehicle’s mileage itself is not a crime, but selling a vehicle with adjusted mileage is. If you purchase a clocked car then at best it will be worth much less than what you paid for it, and at worst it could pose a serious safety hazard. Total Car Check’s silver and gold checks will warn you if there are any mileage issues associated with a vehicle based on MOT mileage recorded.

The numbers

In 2020 we ran an analysis of our own data to see if we could establish the scale of the issue. We looked at over 560 million MOT test records relating to almost 63 million unique vehicles between 2005 and 2020. On average 1 in 18 vehicles were clocked and the average mileage reduction of these vehicles was 46,089 miles. The Ford Transit, Focus and Fiesta were the most commonly clocked models (which is not a surprise given these are three of the most commonly sold vehicles in the UK). HPI ran a similar analysis last year on more recent data it holds and found that 1 in 11 vehicles were clocked compared to 1 in 20 back in 2014.

Why is clocking becoming more common?

We don’t have any evidence demonstrating why the issue is getting worse. But there are some significant factors that are likely to have incentivised activity such as: increasing use of finance products that build in a mileage allowance (and mileage charges if exceeded); the digitalisation of odometers; and easy access to mileage adjustment devices online and services provided by garages.

Government plans to modernise vehicle standards

In November the Department for Transport (DfT) published a consultation on modernising vehicle standards. This is one of several workstreams linked to the future of transport and mobility in the UK – covering anything from connected cars, zero emission vehicles and sea and air transport. It also covers the Law Commission work we blogged about recently on regulating driverless cars here.

Buried in the text of the consultation are proposals for measures on tackling tampering. If you read the proposals you can see the Government is directing this intervention on tackling the use of defeat devices in vehicles (given the public outcry following the emissions scandal) and anything else that could result in unfair competition and a lack of transparency to consumers. But actually tampering also includes the practise of clocking. The proposals look to create new offences for supplying, installing or advertising tampering devices and using a tampering device on a vehicle. Therefore this would outlaw the act of mileage adjustment given it is a form of tampering.

At this stage we have no further detail on the scope of the proposed offences and how they would be structured in law and enforced. But we think this is a start and provides an opportunity for Government to illegalise mileage adjustment in the UK. We now await DfT’s response which should be published by late spring time.

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