Customer sues over tampered mileage

A motorist who bought a car which had clocked more than twice the mileage shown on its odometer took the seller to court and won.

Madam H.M. Peh, 35, an auditor, sued used-car dealer Right Car and recovered $20,000 last week.

Madam Peh and her husband Steve Long were looking to buy a car in late 2015, and spotted a 6½-year-old Nissan Presage advertised by Right Car, a second-hand dealer located in Turf City.

"We did an Internet search on them (the company) and there was nothing wrong," said Mr Long, 41.

The Presage's odometer - which records the distance clocked by a vehicle - showed that the seven-seater had clocked 75,000km.

 

"It looked nice," Mr Long said. "We asked the dealer if it was the real mileage, and he said yes."

They paid $59,000, and took delivery of the car in December 2015.

But within a month, the car developed a few mechanical problems.

"My wife got suspicious, and she called Tan Chong (the authorised Nissan agent)," Mr Long said.

According to Tan Chong, the car had clocked almost 200,000km when it was last serviced in June 2015.

"We were very angry," Mr Long said.

The couple confronted the dealer, who denied knowing the odometer had been tampered with.

After some haggling, the dealer agreed to take back the car and refund them $56,000. But then, "they dragged their feet".

"In the end, they said, 'we don't want to give you any money', so we sued them," Mr Long said.

The court ruled in favour of Madam Peh in December, and she secured a compensation of $20,000.

This is believed to be one of the few cases where consumers successfully sued a dealer over a car with incorrect mileage.

The sum Madam Peh was awarded is equivalent to the loss she made when she traded in the Nissan for a brand-new Citroen Picasso.

"Now, we'll never buy another used car," Mr Long said.

Right Car, which did not contest the suit, declined to comment when contacted.

Lawyer Vijai Parwani, who acted for Madam Peh, said: " Unlike jurisdictions like in Australia and the United States, which have specific legislation against tampering with odometers, there are no specific laws here.

"Having said that, it is possible that a party can be charged with cheating if he fraudulently altered the odometer so as to induce a buyer to purchase the vehicle."

Singapore Vehicle Traders Association first vice-president Raymond Tang said odometer-tampering is "quite common".

"Some dealers do it because it is easier to sell a low-mileage car," Mr Tang said, adding that a vehicle with a lower mileage would generally fetch a higher price too.

But he said it is fairly easy for consumers to win a court case if there is evidence that the mileage shown on the odometer is not the actual mileage.

"They can check with the authorised dealer of the car, which should have the information," he said.

But to save themselves the hassle, Mr Tang said buyers should "buy from more respectable dealers, such as those accredited by CaseTrust".

He said buyers should also be wary of cars with unusually low selling prices.

"If eight dealers are selling a particular car at a certain price, and two others are selling much lower, there must be something wrong," he said.

The car industry remained the top source of complaints to the Consumers Association of Singapore for the fifth year in a row last year, with grouses about defective cars making up half of the 2,916 complaints.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Customer sues over tampered mileage'. Print Edition | Subscribe