Czech officials have pledged to crack down on the widespread practice of altering used cars’ mileage. It is estimated that half of all second-hand vehicles sold are “clocked”, costing customers dozens of billions each year. The Ministry of Industry and Trade now wants to make mileage manipulation a criminal offense.
An estimated 570,000 used cars were sold in the Czech Republic last year which means that for every new car, more than three pre-owned vehicles were sold. But experts warn that about half of them were “clocked”, that is, their mileage was altered to get a higher price from the buyer. Industry and Trade Minister Jan Mládek outlined the scope of the problem at a news conference on Wednesday.
“Czech consumers are being cheated on a mass scale. They buy old cars at multiples of their real values. They lose billions of crowns every year on pre-owned cars which pose a threat to the environment as well as to the safety of their owners and other drivers on the road.”
There are around 1,200 used cars dealerships in the Czech Republic which last year sold around 260,000 vehicles; the remaining cars were sold privately. But there are also at least 29 companies which publicly advertise that for a small fee, they will alter the cars’ mileage so that the seller can get a better price, and dealers have a quicker turnover.
The practice can be punished using Czech anti-fraud legislation but officials say that no such case has ever been brought before court. Minister Mládek says that in cooperation with other government branches, he will push for new, stricter legislation to curb the practice.
“We need to make this a criminal offense so that people who do this could end up in prison. But we will also need to introduce other measures. For instance, authorized service stations should set up databases to provide alternative sources of information about the vehicles.”
Consumer groups have welcomed the initiative. They say additional sources of information about second-hand cars are crucial as better-informed buyers are less likely to buy “clocked” cars. Zbyněk Veselý is the head of Sova, a Czech association of car owners.
“Plans to make car clocking a crime won’t completely do away with the issue. But I expect that it will dramatically lower the frequency of the fraud which is now being publicly committed, and is advertised on the internet.”
However, nearly half of all the used cars sold in the country last year went for 100,000 crowns or less. That makes some experts believe that car clocking will only become less frequent when Czechs are able to pay more for the cars in the first place.