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Old 08-20-2003, 11:38 AM
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 1,804
Car problem: verifying mileage with a broken odometer?

Howdy all,

I'm planning to sell my 1996 Chevy Impala SS at the end of summer and get a new car. I selected the 1996 over the 1994 and 95 versions of the car because it had almost entirely analog gauges, whereas the others had an all digital dashboard. Past experience tells me that is a recipe for disaster as it is only a matter of time until the displays burn out. Even on the 1996, Chevy, in their infinite wisdom, left the odometer as a digital display. As I feared, the display blew out somewhere around 60,000. I would estimate the car now has about 93,000 miles on it now.

Fixing the display is not an option as I'm told to do so, you have to replace the ENTIRE gauge cluster, because it is all one enormous part - cost: $800 parts and labor

The car is otherwise in very good shape, but no buyer in the world is going to just 'take my word for it' that the car has 93,000 miles without some way to verify it. Is there some way for a mechanic to get this information off the OBD-II computer thingee, or the transmission, or otherwise get the reading somewhere else? I think the odometer is still technically working, it just doesn't light up.
Old 08-20-2003, 12:19 PM
Join Date: Mar 2002
Location: KCMO
Posts: 11,126
Maybe. Inquire at a dealership.

93,000 miles on a 7-8 year old car is not at all unbelievable. It's probably very close to the national average.
Old 08-20-2003, 12:50 PM
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Playground of the Damned
Posts: 6,027
I suspect that even if the odometer is working, you're still going to be a little bit screwed.

Traditionally, a replaced odometer is a major red flag which is directly applied to the trade-in value of the car by dealerships. This is because in the past, roll-backs and undocumented odometer replacements were a very common way of screwing over dealerships--odometer tampering falls under federal jurisdiction, so dealerships are naturally cautious about selling cars with known odometer issues. (It's also a good way to safely fleece honest customers, which is unfortunate, but as they used to say in the business with a Karo-syrup smile, "my hands are tied.")

So your trade-in value may be marginally affected. It sounds as if you're looking to sell it to an individual, which is better. To some extent, a normal person will take your word for it so long as you are as up-front about it as you are in this thread.

And, there is always the chance that you may find some sympathy from your dealership. If it's a digital display, the mileage is probably stored in your car's computer, and a dealership might be willing to print out a statement for you. Unfortunately, since digital odometers are even easier to tamper with than the old analogs, you may find that they are even more squeamish about lending their help--just accessing the data stored on your car's chip may constitute "tampering" for all I know.
Old 08-20-2003, 01:34 PM
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 1,804
For the record, the odometer has NOT been tampered with and I expect to sell it to a private party rather than giving the dealer the opportunity to screw me on a trade in AND a new car. One screwing is plenty... thank you very much. Besides, it's a good car, and I'm not about to go through the whole "Oh, your odometer light is out, well we have deduct $x thousand for that from your trade-in. Oh and you got BLACK tires...well those aren't popular anymore, so we have to deduct for that. And we have to reprogram your radio presets so they'll be a deduction for that..."

I do have complete maintenance records for the car, which up until the odometer display stopped working, reflects a reasonable pattern of use (i.e. about 1000 miles/ month in most cases) From about 60,000 miles onward though, every time I took the car in, I had to just give them 'my best guess'.

I know at one point AutoZone had a deal where they could hook a device up to your car free if your 'check engine light' was on that would tell you what code came back as the source of the problem. AutoZone no longer offers that deal, nor could the guy at the store tell me if he could get my mileage off that device.

I fully understand that someone could argue I had screwed with the odometer and tampered with it, though I think the documentation shows a pattern of regular maintenance and honesty. I just want to know, if I find a buyer, can I drive with him/ her to any random mechanics shop and have them provide me a mileage reading (assuming the buyer believes I did not alter the computer)?

Any mechanics out there who can tell me for sure?
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