I dropped the newspaper in the tub and obliterated it...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Apr 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

Some weeks ago, I picked up my paper from my front porch and, as I always do, went right to your column. My wife and I argue over who will get to read your column first, so I try to get up early to beat her to it. I particularly enjoy the serious and thoughtful manner in which you fellas address car questions. You see, I work as a lawyer for the Iowa Attorney General's Office in the area of motor vehicle fraud. So I was particularly gratified to see your advice to "Tammy" regarding her '87 Pontiac Sunbird. She wrote that her car's odometer occasionally went backwards, and that it read 48,000 miles at the time. She wanted to know what the value of the car would be in 1995 if it had zero miles on it! In addition to giving her a technical explanation for her problem, you suggested that she wait until the odometer reads 5,000 miles and then trade it in, and not get greedy and wait too long, or it might go back to 99,999.
While I know that this advice was tongue-in-cheek, I want to say thanks. If Tammy and others like her follow your advice, I or one of my cohorts in another state, will be able to sue Tammy under state and federal odometer laws. In these days of tough times for state governments, we should be able to bring in quite a few dollars in penalties from folks who operate vehicles with non-functional odometers and sell them without disclosing that the odometer readings aren't accurate. You see, under the federal odometer law, it's a federal crime (and state crime in many states) to operate a vehicle with a non functioning or disconnected odometer, if you do so with intent to defraud. It's also a crime to sell a vehicle and give a false odometer statement, as Tammy will do unless she tells the buyer that the odometer reading is not accurate.
Not only would these actions be crimes, but injured consumers could sue Tammy for a minimum of $1,500, plus attorneys fees. In fact, anybody who buys the car following the time Tammy sells it could sue her. And if that isn't enough, the state Attorneys General could sue her, too.
So, my advice to Tammy, and to other with nonfunctional odometers is: GET 'EM FIXED! And not only that, but also make sure you disclose the mileage as being "not actual" when you sell or trade the vehicle. Otherwise, you'll be in more trouble than I was the other morning when I dropped the newspaper in the tub and obliterated your column before my wife could read it.
William L. Brauch
Assistant Attorney General
Consumer Protection Division
Iowa Department of Justice

RAY: Thanks for writing, William. If anyone didn't know that we were kidding about that, I feel confident that you've made the real rules on odometers perfectly clear.

TOM: But I have to admit I was a little nervous when I first saw your letter. I thought you were writing to us about the column in which we recommended taking the electric drill and hooking it right up to the odometer.

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