Tick Tock on the clock

Anyone who has worked in motors for a reasonable length of time will have come across ‘clocking’.

This is the process of altering the mileage on a cars odometer – usually reducing – in order to make it seem like a car has driven less distance than it actually has.

For a long while now, this has been a blight on the industry and, simply put, as things are today, clocking is easy and inexpensive, and there’s no shortage of incentive to do it.

The rise of finance hasn’t helped in the situation. It’s relatively well known that customers approaching their mileage limits on a lease or PCP agreement might have cause to be tempted to alter the mileage on their car, in order to escape the sometimes fairly hefty penalties charged for going over their limit.

This is not only one reason, and you’ll find the others in the feature, but what I want to ask here is how long this will be a problem.

Part of the reason odometers are so easy to tamper with is that the information is generally held within the vehicle itself. If a potential fraudster intends to become an actual fraudster by altering the mileage of their vehicle, the only thing they need access to is the car itself, and a couple of cheap pieces of equipment.

As cars become increasingly connected, however, this is likely to change. Imagine a scenario where cars come with modems which could be used to relay mileage information in real-time to a central server somewhere. Obviously this would ask all sorts of questions about data security and around who owns the data, but regardless, odometers would be much harder to tamper with.

Questions of who would own this data aside, this information could also benefit finance companies themselves. For example: a consumer has signed up for a three-year, 3,000 mile per annum finance deal. Towards the end of their finance agreement, it looks like they’re going to go over the mileage.

If a finance company had real-time access to this data, they’d potentially be able to contact the customer, and either advise them they’re on course to go over their limit, therefore facing a penalty when they return the car, suggest ways to remedy the situation or perhaps even work out a new payment plan, so the payments increase slightly every month, the mileage increases slightly, and they’re less likely to get a nasty sting at the end of the contract.

From a customer’s point of view, this would be far preferable, and would give them more information and freedom. Would it also be better for a finance house?

I’m aware I’m future gazing at this point, but as cars become increasingly connected, these are the types of questions that might be worth considering.