Federal Crimes Blog

49 U.S. Code § 32703 - Odometer Fraud

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Oct 06, 2023

It's common knowledge that cars with lower mileage will typically sell for a higher price on the used car market. Suppose you decide to tamper with an odometer to reduce the displayed mileage. In that case, you may have committed a federal crime.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says thousands of vehicles are sold yearly with false odometer readings, defrauding car buyers. Due to the common issue of odometer fraud, the federal government passed laws to make odometer tampering a felony offense.

49 U.S. Code § 32703 - Odometer Fraud
It's a federal crime to tamper with a car odometer to change the mileage with intent to defraud.

49 U.S. Code 32703 Preventing tampering says that “A person may not:

(1) advertise for sale, sell, use, install, or have installed a device that makes an odometer of a motor vehicle register a mileage different from the mileage the vehicle was driven, as registered by the odometer within the designed tolerance of the manufacturer of the odometer;

(2) disconnect, reset, alter, or have disconnected, reset, or altered an odometer of a motor vehicle intending to change the mileage registered by the odometer;

(3) with intent to defraud, operate a motor vehicle on a street, road, or highway if the person knows that the odometer of the vehicle is disconnected or not operating; or

(4) conspire to violate this section or section 32704 or 32705 of this title.”

Simply put, under federal law, a vehicle's odometer must reflect the miles the car has been driven to protect consumers. Thus, odometer fraud, described as a deceptive practice involving altering or misrepresenting a vehicle's mileage, is a federal crime.  

Car buyers are impacted by odometer fraud because they unknowingly purchase vehicles with more miles indicated, often leading to more repair costs. This law protects consumers from fraudulent sellers who inflate the car value.

Breakdown of the Federal Odometer Fraud Laws

Odometer tampering is a significant issue across the United States.  Federal prosecutors will typically use Under 49 U.S.C. 32703 to indict alleged perpetrators for odometer fraud, which says it's a federal crime to do any of the following:

  • Advertise for sale, sell, or install a device that makes a motor vehicle odometer register a mileage different from the actual mileage driven;
  • Disconnect, reset, or alter a motor vehicle odometer to change the mileage registered by the odometer;
  • Act with intent to defraud or conspire to violate the law.

Notably, most people who will alter (rollback) a car odometer often change or forge the vehicle title and other legal documents with the mileage information.

When this occurs, any false representations about a car's actual mileage are separate federal offenses and could be charged in addition to 49 U.S.C. 32703. If you conspired to alter odometers and falsify mileage records, prosecutors could file charges under 49 U.S.C. 32703(4).

Odometer Fraud Quick Facts

Let's review some essential quick facts about the federal law Title 49 U.S.C. 32703 preventing tampering law:

  • This federal law makes it a crime to use any device causing a vehicle odometer to read differently than the miles actually driven;
  • It's also a crime to disconnect an odometer to change the mileage and knowingly operate a car knowing the odometer is disconnected when the purpose of such action is to commit fraud.
  • Conspiring to commit odometer tampering has the same legal penalty as committing the crime.
  • Taking direct steps to complete a plan for odometer tampering can also result in charges even if you did not carry out the plan.

What Are the Related Federal Laws?

49 U.S. Code Chapter 327 Odometers has several federal offenses that are related to 49 U.S.C. 32703 preventing tampering, such as the following:

  • 49 U.S.C. 32701 – Findings and purposes;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32702 – Definitions;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32704 – Service, repair, and replacement;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32705 – Disclosure requirements on transfer of motor vehicles;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32706 – Inspections, investigations, and records;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32707 – Administrative warrants;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32708 – Confidentiality of information;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32709 – Penalties and enforcement;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32710 – Civil actions by private persons;
  • 49 U.S.C. 32711 – Relationship to state law.

What are the Penalties if Convicted?

The civil and criminal penalties for violating Title 49 U.S. Code 32703 odometer fraud and other types of similar violations under 49 U.S.C. 32709 are as follows:

  • A civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation and per vehicle up to a maximum penalty of $1 million.
  • Any corporation that commits the crime could result in all the officers being individually fined and the company itself.
  • Companies participating in odometer fraud could be subjected to civil lawsuits by the Attorney General and the state governments.
  • Penalties under this law could be cumulative, meaning separate fines and penalties for every instance of odometer tampering.
  • Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 that are separate from civil penalty fines and up to three years in a federal prison

What Are the Defenses?

If you have been accused of violating 49 U.S.C. 32703 odometer tampering, our federal criminal defense lawyers can use different strategies, as discussed below.

Maybe we argue that there was a lack of intent to defraud, which must be proven to obtain a conviction. Perhaps we can prove no intent, such as when the odometer was repaired, not intentionally altered to defraud. Maybe we can show the buyer documentation of the original mileage.

Maybe we can argue that you made an honest mistake. Perhaps the odometer discrepancy was due to an error, but not intentional. Perhaps we can show there was a mechanical issue. Maybe we can prove there was no deliberate tampering.

Maybe we can negotiate a favorable plea deal with the prosecutor. Contact us for a case review by phone or via the contact form. The Hedding Law Firm is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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