Mechanics turn back mileage to tune of 5.65 billion won

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Mechanics turn back mileage to tune of 5.65 billion won

A 30-year-old man surnamed Lee bought a used Kia Soul in July 2010 after a used-car dealer urged him to buy the vehicle. The odometer read less than 10,000 kilometers (6,213 miles).

Thinking it was a good bet given the mileage, Lee took the bait, not realizing the car had actually been driven for over 40,000 kilometers.

Lee discovered he was deceived by the car dealer only after his car had an engine malfunction, caused by lack of engine oil.

The Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said Tuesday it arrested two mechanics for having manipulated the mileage of used cars, which was financed by car dealers, from 2009 until May this year.

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The police also booked another group of 71 used car dealers and technicians on the same charge without physical detention over the same period.

According to the police, 29 car dealers who had run their shops across the used-car complex in Seoul hired mechanics capable of lowering odometer numbers and paid them from 500,000 won ($461) up to 3 million won for each illegal act.

The 29 dealers raked in 5.64 billion won by selling around 430 manipulated cars to 422 customers.

The culprits also reduced the mileage on 1-ton work trucks by more than 100,000 kilometers, more than they manipulated cars.

One of the two arrested technicians, surnamed Kim, single-handily turned back odometers of outdated vehicles with a pointed tool similar to an awl.

When manually manipulating the odometer number was not feasible with the newer vehicles, he altered the numbers with vehicle chips containing mileage he stole from auto graveyards.

The suspected technicians have amassed around 2,000 chips and used them when their clients, car dealers, requested their service.

The dealers received as much as 3 million won more than what they should have for their cars, according to investigators.

The volume of the used-car trade has been rising in recent years. Last year, a total of 3.25 million vehicles were re-sold in the market, up from 2.73 million cars in 2010.

But the current used-car market structure leaves buyers easily exposed to the mileage deception as it is almost impossible to know whether numbers on an odometer have been faked.

“It is practically impossible for used-car buyers to be sure if vehicles in the market are not being manipulated by dealers and they are not paying more than what they should,” said the police. “We need legal measures such as requiring putting traveled miles on car registration to prevent further cases of deception in the market.”

By Han Young-ik [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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