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How to Find Out Whether a 'New' Car Is Really New

August 06, 1993|RALPH VARTABEDIAN

Question: I bought what I thought was a new Volvo 740 wagon. Within weeks, I had to replace all the vinyl bumpers, trim and door handles because they were faded. The odometer stopped at 10,399 miles. Is there some way to discover if the car was new or if the dealer tampered with the odometer before selling it to me?

L. M. W.

Answer: There are two ways to investigate odometer fraud: physical evidence and the car's paper trail.

Odometers are usually manipulated by pulling out the dial unit, which requires removing fairly large sections of the dashboard. This leaves telltale signs that an expert can identify.

A more reliable way of investigating tampering, however, is to look into ownership records. You should ask Volvo to provide a complete shipping history of the car.

The Department of Motor Vehicles can trace your vehicle identification number, which will tell you whether there was a former owner in California. (If you're in a hurry, you can hire an attorney who has access to the DMV data base.)

However, the greatest incidence of odometer tampering involves cars transferred between states during sale, according to William Brennan, a Hollywood attorney specializing in automobile and odometer fraud suits. And tracing ownership through other states can be very difficult.

According to U.S. government findings, odometer fraud costs consumers between $3 billion and $4 billion each year through overpricing of used cars.

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Q: I have gotten conflicting advice on where I should mount two new tires on my car. I always thought you should mount the newest tires on the front of the car. Isn't that safer?

S. D.

A: Although it would seem less dangerous to have a rear tire blow, a blowout on the front is generally easier to control.

When a rear tire blows out, the car immediately begins to fishtail. If you make the mistake of applying the brakes, you are likely to enter a lateral skid and possibly roll the car.

When a front tire blows, the car tends to veer sharply in the direction of the blown tire. But you should be able to control the car if you have power steering.

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