Used-cars: Older than they seem
Used-car buyers must double-check mileage clocked if they do not want to be taken for a ride
Buying a used car? Besides kicking the tyres and checking to see if it is mechanically sound, you should also scrutinise the odometer, which records the distance clocked by the vehicle.
If the figure looks suspicious, it is best to check back with the authorised dealer who serviced the car last. What does a suspicious figure look like? Well, the average mileage clocked by a privately owned car here is about 17,000km a year. So, the mileage of a five-year-old family car should not deviate too far from 85,000km.
A car previously owned by a private-hire, rental or limousine service company can clock up to six times the average mileage of a family car.
If a low-mileage car looks too good to be true, it often is. Company director Y.C. Kua, 41, found that out the hard way.
He bought a 2012 Volkswagen Touareg sport utility vehicle in March. It was advertised as having a mileage of 65,000km - about half the average distance clocked by cars its age.
Mr Kua did not think much of it, until he sent the car to Volkswagen Centre Singapore for glitches which surfaced a few days after he drove it home. It was there that he found out the car was last serviced at about 154,000km.
Shocked, he investigated further, and discovered that when his dealer previously purchased the vehicle from another dealer, it was recorded as having an odometer reading of 165,000km - 2½ times its advertised mileage.
When he confronted the dealer who sold him the car - Performance Carz - "they told me there was nothing much I could do".
"They were cocky, saying that no action would be taken against them," he said, adding that they offered to buy the car back "at a lower price".
Mr Kua refused, but said he also felt "quite helpless". He then approached the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Land Transport Authority, and also filed a police report.
When contacted, the police would not say how many odometer-tampering cases it had pursued. When asked to comment on specific cases where police reports were filed (including Mr Kua's), a spokesman would only say: "Police will assess each report based on the facts and circumstances and take appropriate actions where necessary."
Mr Kua has also sought help from his Member of Parliament and separately engaged a lawyer to sue Performance Carz. His lawyer, Mr Vijai Parwani, confirmed that a suit has been filed.
Performance Carz could not be reached for comment.
Mr Parwani added that he is seeing a rise in such cases. He handled about a dozen last year and has six on hand.
"It is not commonly known that odometer tampering is against the law," he said, adding that unlike countries such as Australia, the United States and Britain "which have specific legislation against tampering with odometers", there are no specific laws here.
"It is all lumped under general cheating," he said.
In May last year, Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport chairman Sitoh Yih Pin asked in Parliament if there were plans to legislate against odometer-tampering.
In a reply, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the practice "is already an offence under the Penal Code".
"Furthermore, if a motor dealer is aware that an odometer has been tampered with, but fails to disclose this to the buyer, he can be investigated for unfair practices under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act," Mr Khaw noted.
Case said it received 47 complaints involving odometer tampering between 2015 and last year. In the first quarter of this year, it received none.
Another lawyer, Mr Singa Retnam, said: "The police should investigate these cases to ensure consumers are protected."
He is currently handling one such case, where a two-year-old Mercedes-Benz had clocked more than 168,000km, but was sold with an odometer reading of less than 43,000km.
Industry watchers said odometer-tampering is not uncommon.
With the popularity of private-hire cars and drivers who offer illegal carpooling services, they said the temptation to tamper is even higher since such cars typically have extremely high mileages, rendering them unsaleable.