Having regret over disconnecting an odometer cable to adhere to lease terms. What can I do to make it up to the dealer?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help! I think I'm in deep doo-doo. The two-year lease on my Jeep Cherokee is
about to expire. I did the unthinkable: I unhooked the odometer cable at the
transmission. But after 3,000 miles, my conscience won out and I reconnected it.
I'm still over my mileage allowance by about 3,000 miles. I realize it was a big
mistake, and I want to make restitution, but don't know how to approach it.

My question is, how much trouble am I in? Would buying the vehicle eliminate the
problem? When I return the vehicle, will they be able to tell the mileage has
been tampered with? Thanks. -- Gary

RAY: Geez, Gary. It's not often that we get e-mail from criminals! This is very
exciting! I hope it's OK that I forwarded your little note right on to

TOM: You committed fraud, Gary. And even though you attempted to cheat a car
dealer, we still don't entirely approve of your actions.

RAY: Chances are the dealer won't know that you disconnected the speedometer
cable. Some cables do have a painted seal on them, so that you CAN tell when
they've been disconnected. But in this case, the dealer probably doesn't have
reason to suspect you. If you came in after two years with 29 miles on the
thing, he might get suspicious. But I'd say it's unlikely that he'll investigate
a car that's 3,000 miles over the limit. But you never know.

TOM: Unfortunately, even if it does get past him, he's just going to turn around
and sell the car to some other poor, unsuspecting customer, who doesn't know the
car has extra miles on it. And that will certainly bring you bad automotive
karma for many years to come.

RAY: So the only way out of it is for you to buy the car, Gary. And then you'll
have two choices. Once the statute of limitations is up, you can sell the car
and disclose the actual mileage then. Most states require you to notify a buyer
if you have reason to believe that the odometer does not reflect the actual
mileage of the vehicle. That way, you're not actively committing fraud. And in
that case, having to explain the discrepancy and admit that you've been a
sleazeball in a past life will be your penance.

TOM: Or, you can just keep the car until the bitter end. Then, having driven
around in a Jeep Cherokee for 150,000 miles, you will have paid your debt to
society, your chiropractor and the Chrysler Corporation _ and then some.

* * *

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