How on earth do we know if the reading is accurate? Why do some people turn the mileages back (what is commonly known as a ‘haircut’). Firstly it constitutes fraud and is a criminal offence. People do this to gain a higher selling price. 

If there aren't service books AND a contactable previous owner, just walk away and take your business elsewhere. In all the years I have been in this business, I have rarely heard a genuine case of the books being missing. 99% of the stories are pure nonsense. I can look at a steering wheel, upholstery and foot pedals and tell you within 10,000kms accuracy what the actual mileage of any vehicle is.

Here is a list of the usual reasons people give me for not having service books: 

  1. They broke into my car and stole my service books (Yeah, right!) 
  2. I packed them away in a box when I moved house and can't find them now, but I'm sure they are there somewhere. 
  3. The dealer who serviced my car last, did not put the books back. (Highly unlikely) 
  4. They were there last week. I can't believe this! (Yeah, right again!) 
  5. The books are in Jhb. They are being posted down to me next week (which never comes) 

In the very rare event that one of these stories might just be true, at least one should be able to contact the previous owner and confirm some level of truth. The reality is that there are enough used cars in SA to NOT have to buy one without service books. 

Even digital odometers are being turned back. I saw a large ad in a local paper recently where someone is advertising that he "repairs and corrects" digital odometers. Be careful guys and girls. Have a standard and stick to it. No books - no buy. It's not that difficult. 

A tell tale sign to look for is the little service sticker that garages paste on the inside of the drivers door support column. The one that tells you when your next service is due. Many people forget to remove that and it is common for me to catch a potential fraudster out like that. (Just compare mileages and dates on the sticker). The clever guys will pull this sticker off - and when I see that, I immediately know the odometer reading has been tampered with. So if you have a scenario of 'books missing plus service sticker removed' you can take poison on it - it's had a haircut! 

Any other tips how to check on odometer accuracy? 

Another test is the steering wheel wear. This takes a little more skill and experience. The different manufacturers use different materials for their steering wheels. Opel, for example, use a recycled material, as does Ford and Mazda, which wears out much faster than Toyota or Mercedes. Let's take Toyota as an example: If a Toyota 's steering wheel is shiny and smooth from wear, the car will have done anything from 180,000kms upwards. It's a learning process to know and understand the different wear characteristics of every car's steering wheel, but it's still the best way for me to quickly confirm what the odometer shows.

When you check the service books, follow this line of reasoning:

  1. Check the opening page and note the details of the original owner. Check date of 1st registration. Look for signs of alterations and especially the use of Tippex.
  2. Follow the service stamps. Check that each service was done on the correct mileage and check the intervening time gaps of the dates. They should be approximately similar.
  3. Sometimes a new service book is purchased and "fixed" to look like the original.When looking at the service stamps, scan your eye over all the stamps quickly. You are checking to see if all the stamps were done on the same day and completed in the same ink and handwriting. If so, be suspicious. Some “operators” turn back the odometer, throw away the books and order new books from the franchise and ‘arrange for the book to be stamped ficticiously. Look for signs like all the handwriting on the service stamps being the same; the same pen/ink being used and the same ink and pressure of all the stamps. With a little suspicion, you should be able to tell fairly quickly whether the books are genuine or not. You can also confirm telephoncially with the servicing dealer the veracity of the service records as most of the franchise dealers keep computer data bases updated. Always have the VIN number ready to quote.

The service history should provide you with a proper audit trail.