PORTLAND -- A Portland woman claims she was taken by a used car dealer and said it cost her thousands of dollars. After she bought her car, she had major problems and lots of repairs. It turns out, the mileage on her car had been “rolled back.”
A bad alignment, worn brake pads, a weak battery; all things that go hand in hand with buying a used car. But when the odometer has been tampered with, all bets are off. Experts say once that happens, the true value of the car can never be determined.
Rolling back an odometer is also illegal. That’s something Nicole Harbert found out the hard way.
“1998 Honda Civic for $3,900. It had 118,000 miles on it,” she told Unit 8. But it turned out, Harbert said she was taken for a ride.
“When I went to go trade it in they told me it had over 200,000 miles on it, two days before I bought it, it was purchased at an auto auction,” she said.
Out several thousand dollars, Harbert called the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Detectives started investigating the man who sold her the car, a wholesale dealer named Omar Abu-Neel.
Detective Ken Yohe said when he interviewed Abu-Neel, his story changed.
“He denied it at first, ultimately he told me that he had switched out the odometer on it,” Yohe said. That’s against the law and could put Abu-Neel’s dealer’s license in jeopardy.
The Oregon Vehicle Code states that a person is guilty of illegal odometer tampering if he replaces, disconnects, turns-back or resets the odometer of any motor vehicle with the intent to reduce the number of actual miles indicated on the odometer gauge. The offense is a Class “C” felony.
“The temptation for someone dishonest to alter the reading in the odometer in order to get more money for a car; that temptation has always been around,” said Oregon DMV spokesperson David House.
So Unit 8 tried to track down Omar Abu-Neel to ask him about the mileage on the car he sold Harbert and other cars he’s sold. But finding him was not easy. His listed home address was vacant. The employees at the garage he claims to take his vehicles to said they didn’t know where he was. And his business, International Auto Sales in Vancouver, is actually an RV lot. A person there told us Abu-Neel only gets mail there. So we started going to the local auto auctions, and finally caught-up with Abu-Neel, who was surprised to see us.
Unit 8 told Abu-Neel, “We're talking about rolling back the odometers on the problems you've had with selling cars” and his response was a denial. “Here's what happened with the story...It's not rolling, it’s just, the speedo doesn't work,” Abu-Neel told us. “We took it to the shop and he just fixed it for me, we did not roll the odometer, it’s just misunderstanding.”
Abu-Neel said he did not replace the odometer, he just repaired it. And he said he never altered the miles after he bought it at an auction and before he sold it to Nicole. But that’s not what he told sheriff’s deputies, who questioned Abu-Neel in a taped interview.
During questioning, Detective Yohe said to Abu-Neel, “She’s buying a car at 118,000 miles.” Abu-Neel says, “Right.” The detective replied, “On an odometer that you know you replaced.”
Abu-Neel responded, “I know I replaced it, yeah.” The detective then added, “that originally had 202,000 miles.” To which Abu-Neel answered, “Right.”
“How many more people is he going to do it to? How many people has he done it to already? I know I'm not the only one,” said Harbert.
And while that remains to be seen, the Multnomah County district attorney is reviewing the case. Abu-Neel told us, if the D.A. thinks he has a case, bring it on.
“Have him prove it,” Abu-Neel told Unit 8. “If he has any case against me he can bring it over, yes.”
So what can you do to protect yourself? If a car is ten years old or newer, check the odometer disclosure with the DMV for actual miles. If the car is older than ten years old, get an online vehicle history report, like Carfax. It may cost you a few dollars, but could save you thousands.