Business Halacha: When the Car Dealer Turns Back the Odometer

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odometerQuestion: Three months after buying a used car, I discovered that the dealer had turned the odometer back 100,000 miles. When I came to return the car, the dealer insisted that since I used it during these months I owe him the equivalent of three months’ leasing. Is there any basis for this?

Answer: The sale of defective merchandise is void from the beginning; the item remains the seller’s and he owes the money back to the buyer. On this basis the Shulchan Aruch rules that if someone bought a house and later found it defective – the buyer has to pay rent for the time that he lived there. (C.M. 232: 15. See discussion in SM”A 232:33 whether this is because of ribbis or gezel.)

Later authorities debate whether the need to pay rent applies also to movable objects or to items that are not intended for rental. (See Ohr Sameach Hil. Mechira 16:8) On account of this dispute, we would apply here the principle of muchzak, whoever is in possession of the money wins. If the dealer has the money, he could withhold the equivalent amount of leasing; if the buyer has not paid yet (e.g., the car was bought through seller financing) he would not have to pay for the use. Beis Din would have to ascertain, though, whether there is a minhag hamedina (common commercial practice) on this issue. If there is a clear practice not to pay rental, the dealer would not be able to withhold money for leasing even if he were in possession.

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Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian

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13 COMMENTS

  1. One of the very best used car dealerships is the one of the exemplary Ben Torah, Rav Meyer Sher, Sh’lita, in Baltimore. His name is very well known in yeshiva circles; thus, when I was at Beis Medrosh Gevoha in Lakewood, I used him for purchasing a car.

    He related to me the widespread corruption and outright deception and thievery that goes on with selling used cars. One item that he made a point of immediately mentioning is the fact that, almost always: “THEY CHANGE THE ODOMETER!”

    At the end of this little lesson, he just bluntly exclaimed: “THIS IS A TERRIBLE BUSINESS!!”

  2. “How about a shidduch? You turn back a couple of years to make it happen?”

    That is certainly a cute idea! But just like by buying something such trickery is Assur and just produces a worthless sale, so, certainly, in trying to build a human relationship, and certainly, certainly, certainly with the most important human relationship, the friendship par exellance, of marriage, such trickery — and any trickery — is Assur and is just going to produce, Chas V’Shalom, a ruined relationship.

  3. WE HAVE A USED CAR DEALER IN LAKEWOOD THAT SELLS CARS WITH ROLLED BACK ODOMETERS ALL DAY LONG, THEY HAVE BEEN CALLED TO A DIN TORAH MANY TIME, THEY KNOW HOW TO PLAY THE BAIS DIN SYSTEM VERY WELL, THEY NEVER SHOW UP, AND ARE STILL SELLING CARS THAT HAVE BEEN ROLLED, IT’S VERY WRONG, DON’T WORRY, THEY WILL CATCH UP WITH HIM

  4. How does one know if they roll back the odometer? Also, would it be lashon hara to say which car dealer does it in Lakewood, NJ?

  5. in today’s cars there are multiple computers that store the mileage & events that happen. Many times the dash is changed but not the other computers.

  6. Here in Cleveland we have a frum used car dealer,Reb Dovid Fant of Fantastic Auto Sales who has been selling cars for many years.
    In addition to selling locally he sells cars all around the country as well as the tri- state area.I have heard from many of his satisfied customers about his honesty and integrity. This is how he runs his business. No rolled back odometers OR accident cars.

  7. I am not sure this case is comparable to the case in shulchan aruch. Here the seller DELIBERATELY deceived the buyer and with his own hands created the deception. I am not sure if that was the case in s.a. It sounds like something was found unknown to both parties which would invalidate the sale. Here the crooked seller does not seem to deserve any payment. I would like to hear a clarification. Also to #9, it would also seem that identifying a thief and warning the community from being swindled would not be loshan hora once the seller is warned and refuses to comply. To the contrary. Its the obligation of Bais Din to protect the community. NOT the thieves. Again, I would love to hear clarification.

  8. i can vouch and give a clean bill of sale to
    anyone who purchases a car from rav d. fant
    he was my roomate in yeshiva, extremly honest
    and great person all around.

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