How to Check a Car’s Mileage

Checking the mileage for a car should be one of the first things you look at when you’re flicking through the classifieds or scrolling through AutoTrader. You’d expect the older the car, the higher the mileage, although this isn’t always the case. Let Scrap Car Comparison guide you through everything you need to know about car mileage, how to check it, and what to look out for.

What is car mileage?

Your car’s mileage is, simply put, how far your car has driven over its life since it left the factory. Every mile you drive along adds more to your car’s mileage, and that figure gives prospective buyers an idea as to just how much use it has seen before they decide to part with their hard-earned cash for your old daily driver. 

Don’t expect to ever be driving a car with a 0 on the clock, however, even if you’ve splashed out on a brand new car direct from the dealership. Cars need to be driven from the factory, on to and off of trucks, to dealerships, around dealerships, so if you get in your brand new car and see it showing around 10 miles already, then there is no cause for alarm. Of course if it is significantly higher it may also have been used as a demonstration car for the dealership, although they should make you aware of this before you put your money down.

You can also gauge how trustworthy an advert may be by glancing at the odometer (the fancy word for mileage counter). If you’re being told that the car has only had one owner, and during that time has only been used by a little old lady for her weekly trip to the shops, then you should probably be expecting to see circa 2,000 miles on the clock. If, however, the readout suggests around 25,000, then unless she lives outside the M25 and does her weekly shop in Harrods, the implied history doesn’t check out. Take a look at our handy guide on what good mileage means for a used car.

How to check a car’s mileage

One of the easiest ways to check a car’s mileage is online. Mileage readings are recorded as part of the MOT process, so if you’re looking at a car and want to get a gauge of how many miles are under the bonnet, pop the number plate in the Government’s MOT history checker. For free you are able to see the basic details of all past MOT tests, which includes its mileage count as well as whether it passed or failed. If the car did fail, you’ll also be able to see why, as well as any advisories that were noted down, which can also give you a look into how the car has previously been treated. This system obviously doesn’t work on cars registered outside of the UK or those under three years old as they will have not had an MOT yet, or any other vehicle that may be exempt for whatever reason.

Can a car’s mileage be reset?

With the value of a car being intrinsically linked to the mileage reading, it can be tempting to reset the total or maybe roll it back a couple of thousand in order to gain a slightly better price for your tired old runabout. However, doing so could land you in hot water with the law.

A legal loophole in the UK means that it isn’t actually illegal to ‘clock’ your car, providing you have a genuine reason to do so. These reasons can include electrical glitches corrupting the data, or replacement instrument clusters that think the car is brand new. However, if you’re just rolling back the miles to try and get a better price, that’s where you start to fall into the “illegal” category.

How to check a car’s mileage is genuine

Thankfully there are a few telltale signs in order to be able to spot a clocked car, and keeping these in mind when researching your potential purchase will help to reveal those trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

  • Shiny steering wheels and worn pedals
    • If the car has been used a lot in its lifetime, then there will be telltale signs easily visible from the driver’s seat. Humans are creatures of habit, and as a result when we sit in the driving seat of a car for hours on end, day-in, day-out, we’ll be sitting in the same position, with our hands in the same spot on the wheel every time. This is important to remember as if a car is claiming to not have been used that often, but you see some obvious wear markings on the steering wheel from sweaty hands, or the pedals look pretty worn down from constant usage, there’s a good chance it’s probably done more miles than the current owner is letting on.
  • Small stone chips on the bonnet
    • Cars with high mileage have, usually, racked up the majority of their mileage on motorways or dual carriageways. An easy way to tell if a car has been building up a steady collection of motorway miles is to have a look at the bonnet. Small stone chips on the bonnet are regular signs of heavy motorway use, as the cars in front flick up small stones as they fly along at 70(ish)mph. While it’s not an obvious sign that the car has been clocked, it suggests that there has been a lot of motorway use, and it’s rare that motorway journeys are short trips.
  • General wear and tear
    • Small rips and frays in the upholstery often suggest that the car has been used quite a lot, and again, like above, if it claims that it has been a simple runabout for short journeys, the chances of rips and tears appearing are much lower than a car that’s been used (and potentially abused) for miles upon miles.

Do car insurance companies check mileage?

We all know that most insurance policies are calculated with your estimated mileage being a key factor in determining your quote. While most insurers will rely on you to accurately represent what your annual mileage is, with mileage figures being publicly accessible for anyone who knows the number plate of the car, it wouldn’t be too difficult for them to run a car mileage check to see whether you’re sticking to your estimated figure.

What if your car’s mileage is unreadable?

Digital odometers can be a little tricky to see at times, depending on the light, and if the bulb behind the screen has blown, then you may find that an MOT centre would regard the figure as “unreadable”. Likewise, any electrical issues or glitches can throw up issues that make the number incorrect or unreadable. If this is the case, you’re likely going to need to get the entire system fixed, or at least plug an odometer mileage scanner into the onboard diagnostic port. Some cars will have telematics built in which can track the car’s mileage, and even some manufacturers such as Volvo and Mercedes now offer keys that have the ability to store this information. Getting the issue sorted, whatever has caused it, should be high on your priority list, especially if you know you’ll be looking to sell the car a little way down the line.  Having full service and MOT history adds value to your car when putting it up for sale, and any discrepancies, or a lack of mileage info, is likely to harm this significantly.

What to do if you think the car’s mileage has been clocked

If you’ve bought a car but now that you’ve had it for a few days you’re starting to question whether the figure on the odometer is genuine or not, there’s a couple of things you could do. If you’ve bought it from an official dealership, then you will be entitled to a refund under the Consumer Rights Act. If the car has been bought privately however, then it could be a little more tricky and the best thing to do is to contact your local Trading Standards office. One thing you should avoid, however, is selling it on yourself. Knowing you’re selling a clocked car, is an offence – so it’s better to be safe than sorry and avoid any legal headaches.

Does a car’s mileage affect its value?

As a general rule, the more miles a car drives, the lower its value will be. Of course each car is different, but you often find there is a drop of around 20% of value for every 20,000 miles a car drives. It’s also worth remembering that new cars will depreciate much faster than older cars, and of course the maintenance schedule will have an impact, too – a better maintained car will retain its value much better than one that’s been run ragged. When it comes to scrapping, or salvaging, similar rules apply but with the average age of a scrap car being 14, you shouldn’t expect to be having these conversations until it’s reached around 150,000 at least.

Why is it important to verify a car’s mileage

An inaccurate car mileage can be incredibly dangerous when it comes to a maintenance schedule as if you think that the car’s components have gone under far fewer miles than they actually have, you could find them expiring much sooner than you expect, or at the very least having much worse performance than you will be driving for. It’s also important when buying a used car as if a shady seller has clocked their car, they may be trying to squeeze more money out of you than the car is actually worth.

If you’re beginning to think that the mileage on your car has started to rack up just a little too high, then now may be the time to look at moving on to the next one in line. Sell your car as scrap or salvage with Scrap Car Comparison and we can guarantee you the very best price, with minimal hassle. We’ll even come and collect it from you, wherever you are, free of charge. So get started today with a quote in just 30 seconds, and see how much your tired old car could be worth.

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