5 On Your Side

Garner man warns of used car odometer scam: 'It's just frustrating'

Posted March 7, 2013 5:00 p.m. EST
Updated March 7, 2013 6:29 p.m. EST

— Experts estimate 1 out of every 10 used cars has had its odometer rolled back, and detecting that fraud can be difficult. A Garner man said he and his mother learned the hard way.

Bert Radford was searching for a car for his mother when he found a 2005 Honda Odyssey minivan on Craigslist in February 2012. They went to the north Raleigh home of the seller, Francis Tendayi Marimo, who told them he bought, fixed and sold Honda vehicles, Radford said.

“We did take it for a test drive, and everything seemed good,” Radford said. “It only had 52,000 miles on it, so we thought we were really getting a good deal.”

Marimo provided complete paperwork, including a clean vehicle history report from Carfax, and explained the minivan had such low mileage because the former owner was “older and didn’t drive that much,” Radford recalled.

Radford’s mother bought the minivan for $14,250. A month later, an inspector with the state Division of Motor Vehicles alerted them that the 52,417 miles listed on the title was wrong. The last reported mileage on the minivan was about 182,000 – about a 130,000-mile difference.

“Right now, the mileage says 70,000, but it's really over 200,000 at this point,” Radford said, adding that the minivan has had serious mechanical problems. “It's just frustrating to know that this van is probably towards the end of its life, and here we are with a five-year loan."

Marimo, 39, was arrested in February 2012 and charged with change of mileage violations, obtaining property by false pretenses and acting as a dealer without a license.

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles and U.S. Department of Transportation declined to comment to WRAL’s 5 On Your Side, due to the continuing investigation. However, records show agents believe Marimo traveled to different states to buy Hondas, then went to junkyards to buy low-mileage odometers from similar vehicles and swapped them out.

When investigators searched Marimo’s home, they found odometers, keys to multiple vehicles, multiple titles and more than $17,000 in cash, according to a search warrant.

Radford says investigators told him there are at least 100 victims. WRAL’s 5 On Your Side tried to contact Marimo, who was released from the Wake County jail on a $3,000 secured bond. His phone was disconnected, and no one answered at the address listed in court documents.

Before buying a used car, the U.S. Department of Transportation recommends the following:

  • Ask to see the title and compare the mileage on it with the vehicle's odometer. Examine the title closely if the mileage notation seems obscured or is not easy to read.
  • Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage on the vehicle's maintenance or inspection records. Search for oil change and maintenance stickers on windows or door frames, in the glove box or under the hood.
  • Examine the tires. If the odometer on the car shows 20,000 or less, it should have the original tires.
  • Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle – especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals – to be sure it seems consistent with and appropriate for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.
  • Request a Carfax Vehicle History Report to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle's history. If the seller does not have a vehicle history report, use the car's VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) to order a Carfax vehicle history report online.