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Buford man gets prison for odometer scam
Older odometers such as this can be turned back, but such action leaves tell-tale signs. - photo by Tom Reed

It’s one of the oldest scams in the auto business: rolling back the mileage on a car’s odometer.

A Buford man will spend 18 months in prison after he was convicted of rolling back odometers on used cars and trucks to make them more valuable.

Ronald Dale Cole, 55, was sentenced on Oct. 14, by U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story, who also ordered him to pay $191,395 in restitution, reflecting the amount the court found Cole had defrauded victims through his odometer fraud scheme.

Cole purchased high-mileage cars, sport-utility vehicles and trucks at wholesale auto auctions in Georgia and South Carolina, rolled back the odometers by an average of 97,742 miles and resold the vehicles at auto auctions.

At sentencing, Story found that Cole had sold 56 vehicles with altered odometers at an average loss per victim of $3,418. Most of the vehicles Cole sold were more than 10 years old when he sold them.

As more and more manufacturers use electronic odometers, tampering becomes more difficult.

But in older cars, it is still a problem.

Johnny Pinson, used car manager at Milton Martin Honda in Gainesville, said there are some tell-tale signs of odometer tampering.

"If you look closely at the numbers and you see scratches, there is a good chance it has been tampered with," he Pinson.

There are other signs, such as numbers not lining up on the odometer, particularly in the 10,000 position.

Pinson said another thing to look for is the wear and tear is on the brake and accelerator pedals.

Because of the age of the cars, Cole was not required to sign a disclosure certifying the mileage on these 10-year-old vehicles as accurate. But each time he altered an odometer with intent to change the mileage on the odometer, he violated federal law.

"Just because a car dealer does not have to certify the mileage on so-called ‘exempt’ cars, that does not give him a license to roll back odometers," said Gregory G. Katsas, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. "We are vigilant in enforcing this important consumer protection law and will prosecute anyone who tries to skirt the law by rolling back odometers on vehicles of any age. This is especially important as cars last longer and longer and as people rely on older cars for reliable transportation."

Pinson said computer databases, such as, have information on service performed by dealers and other information, such as whether the vehicle has been involved in a wreck.

He said the dealership performs an overall inspection of each car they consider for sale on their used car lot. If a person is buying from an individual, he said paying a mechanic to inspect the vehicle is money well spent.

"I wouldn’t buy one without having someone look at it," Pinson said.

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