How To Reset Miles On A Car

in Ownership
Car odometer

Source: Pixabay

Whether you’re considering selling your current vehicle or searching for a used one, the subject of how to reset miles on a car may be on your mind. After all, the mileage on a vehicle is a significant determinant of its value. This information also helps an owner know when to perform maintenance. So, in this article, we’ll discuss all the critical issues relating to odometers, mileage, and cars.

What’s an Odometer?

An odometer is a device that measures the distance traveled by a vehicle. In the U.S., this data is measured in miles (mileage), while in other countries, the distance is measured in kilometers (kilometrage). Older cars use a set of gears to count wheel rotations (scaled to miles or kilometers) and transfer this information to a mechanical odometer. Newer vehicles use a digital odometer and a computerized system to report mileage.


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What’s a Trip Odometer?

A trip odometer is used to record mileage for a particular journey. In the case of a trip odometer, asking, “How to reset miles on a car?” means you can quickly turn the reading back to zero with the push of a button (check the car’s owner manual for specific instructions). Most modern cars have “Trip A” and “Trip B” settings. 

Can the Main Odometer Be Set Back to Zero?

Not legally. The odometer must always reflect the actual use of the vehicle. It violates federal law to tamper with the odometer to hide a car’s actual mileage. While odometer rollback was more common in the days of mechanical units, altering a digital odometer is more sinister because there’s less evidence.  

On top of state and civil penalties, the threat of multiple years in federal prison is a strong deterrent against widespread odometer tampering. The situation is more likely to occur with small, unscrupulous dealer operations or an individual seeking to boost a car’s value. Remember that disconnecting an odometer so it doesn’t record mileage is also considered tampering. So, the short answer to “How to reset miles on a car?” You don’t.

Do Odometers Go Bad?

It’s rare, but it happens. With older cars, the sending unit on the wheel or the odometer itself may malfunction and prevent the accurate recording of mileage. On newer vehicles, the digital display in the instrument panel can fail. Repairs are possible, but this task is best left to professionals familiar with the legal requirements.

When feasible, the qualified mechanic will move the current mileage information onto the replacement unit (common with digital systems but harder to do with mechanical setups). Reputable odometer repair businesses, sometimes called meter shops, will frequently require access to old and new odometers to ensure proper and accurate repair.


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Does a Replacement Engine Reset the Odometer?

No. The odometer is a record of use for the entire car. So, a vehicle with a replacement engine should have mileage that reflects things from day one. Even in the case of a brand-new engine, the odometer should reflect the original information. 

Can a Digital Odometer Be Reset?

Unfortunately, yes. In fact, tampering with digital odometer systems is arguably more effective because it’s harder to spot. The display can be changed, or the relevant memory chip can be reprogrammed or replaced. However, mileage data is stored in other vehicle systems, like the powertrain control module, so an experienced automotive technician will know where to look for the correct information.  

How Can I Tell If a Car Has an Odometer That’s Been Reset?

It comes down to a lot of detective work. First, begin with the obvious. Always check the vehicle history report (CARFAX or AutoCheck, for example). Often, an odometer or mileage issue will get reported here. These accounts aren’t perfect, but consider this information the first line of defense. Note that vehicle history reports can go back as far as 1981.

Next, perform a physical inspection of the car. Does the instrument panel appear to be tampered with? Check if the odometer display is misaligned or if screws are missing from that general area of the dashboard.  

At the same time, consider what you know about the car. A 12-year-old car with only 50,000 miles might be a great find, but don’t take things at face value. For example, check out the accelerator and brake pedals for excessive wear beyond what the odometer indicates. The floor mat and carpeting below the pedals may tell you the same thing. Look for other tell-tale signs of extensive use, like a worn-down steering wheel and gear-shift lever.

In addition, you’ll want to see how the paperwork matches up. Review the certificate of title. And ideally, this will be an original document, as rip-off artists can use replacement titles to mask original miles. The title certificate will provide a baseline mileage number. See how it compares with the odometer.  

Suppose you’re buying a car brand from a franchised dealer (in other words, a Honda dealer selling a used Honda). In that case, the vehicle’s complete history should be available from the manufacturer. Analyze the car’s repair and maintenance records, which always have mileage information.  

With all this information at hand, compare the mileage readings. Do these details make sense? Are there any gaps or conflicting reports? If something doesn’t add up, skip the car and look elsewhere.


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Should I Buy a Car with a Reset Odometer?

It depends. Cars with known odometer issues usually have substantially less pricing than comparably unaffected vehicles. Taking advantage of the savings can be tempting, but what are you getting yourself into? Someone knowing how to reset miles on a car did this for a reason. Is it simply to boost resale value? Or is it masking the need for inevitable repair work such as a transmission rebuild or major engine service?  

Yes, you’ll save money, but you could be hit with an expensive repair bill down the road. Also, consider how the resale will be affected when you want to sell or trade in the car. Determine your priorities: lower cost now versus future uncertainty.

Car Odometer Frequently Asked Questions

What is the normal reading for an odometer?

There’s no such thing as normal or standard odometer readings. Depending on the vehicle’s age and how much the owner drives, cars can accumulate up to 250,000 miles or more on the odometer.

Can you reset the miles on a vehicle?

No. Mileage is one of the primary factors during vehicle appraisal and determining its sale value. In fact, it’s illegal to alter or tamper with your car’s odometer, especially intending to deceive potential buyers or sellers about the car’s actual condition.

What is an odometer rollback?

While resetting or tampering with an odometer is illegal, it certainly won’t stop people from doing odometer rollbacks. With the right tools and know-how, the odometer can be rolled back to take hundreds to thousands of miles off the displayed number. Even digital odometers can be altered using special tools.

Is odometer fraud still common today?

Sadly, yes. Since more cars now use digital odometers, it was assumed that odometer fraud incidents would be fewer. However, according to the NHTSA, over 450,000 vehicles sold yearly have fraudulent odometer readings.

What is considered good mileage on a used car?

The average car puts in 10,000-12,000 miles every year. So when you’re looking to buy a used car, check the vehicle’s total mileage and divide the number by the vehicle’s age in years – this is to calculate the car’s annual average. A used car is considered to have good mileage if it has average or below-average numbers. But of course, you should also consider the vehicle’s condition, make and model, accident history, and repair and maintenance records.

How many miles is too much for a used car?

In the past, while it was common to stay away from cars that have high mileage, modern vehicles are now built to last. Although mileage remains a crucial factor in determining a used car’s value, high mileage doesn’t automatically make the car less reliable for transportation. A good rule of thumb is to have the used car inspected by a mechanic if it has more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. Ultimately, the condition, make and model, and vehicle history can give a better picture of the car’s overall condition.

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