WHITE SMOKE: Hyundai’s fuel cell-powered Tucson looks like any other Tucson, except for the ‘Fuel Cell’ badge on the back and its water vapor exhaust.
WHITE SMOKE: Hyundai’s fuel cell-powered Tucson looks like any other Tucson, except for the ‘Fuel Cell’ badge on the back and its water vapor exhaust.
HYUNDAI

Wal-Mart loves to advertise its rollback prices. Those generally are good deals.

However, there’s also a thriving rollback market among used car dealers, which isn’t a good deal for the auto industry or consumers. Odometer rollback fraud is alive and thriving again, making it a concern that many used car purchases might not be such great deals.

Of even greater concern is that Massachusetts is singled out as one of the five highest- risk states, according to a report from Carfax, the vehicle history experts. The others are California, Nevada, New York, and Texas.

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Carfax estimates that more than 190,000 cars have their odometers rolled back each year.

Most folks—well, at least the author—assumed that the new digital odometers were pretty much tamper-proof, at least when compared to the old mechanical odometers that could be turned back with a power drill and flexible extension attachment.

One of the reasons for today’s odometer scams is that today’s cars and trucks have long lifespans. A second reason is that odometer correction tools are sold online and can alter digital odometers.

According to Carfax, we’re not talking about minor changes, either. The majority of rollback vehicles have at least 50,000 miles taken off their odometers. And it’s not just high-mileage newer vehicles that are being targeted; instead, it seems that 14- to 15-year- old vehicles are quite susceptible to tampering.

“Odometer fraud is a calamity for car buyers,” says Larry Gamache, communications director at Carfax. “Serious problems can arise from a rollback.”

The problems hit car owners on multiple levels.

An obvious one, says Gamache, “is that older, deteriorating parts lead to unexpected repairs.” But there are some not-so-obvious considerations.

“Unperformed scheduled maintenance for the vehicle’s true mileage may compromise both vehicle safety and performance,” he says.

Then there’s the whack at owners’ pocketbooks.

“Each victim loses thousands of dollars because they’ve likely paid much more than these cars are really worth,” says Gamache.

Carfax, obviously, is using this report to both create public awareness and to boost its services, but its cautions are worth heeding. For starters, you can check a vehicle for odometer fraud for free at carfax.com/odo.

But the company also offers these tips:

• Check that wear and tear appears consistent with the odometer reading.

• Ask the seller for service records to see what repairs have been done and check that the mileage corresponds with what’s on the odometer.

• Buy from a known reputable seller or trusted dealership.

• “Too good to be true” usually is just that.

• Have your mechanic inspect the vehicle and check its computer.

• And, yes, have the seller provide a Carfax report or buy one yourself at Carfax.com.

Hyundai’s Fuel Cells

We were at a neighborhood Christmas Open House last weekend and the talk turned to cars, especially hybrids, electrics, and fuel cells.

Not only was there general awareness of fuel cells’ potential to help reduce dependence on foreign oil, but there was also an understanding of the present roadblocks to their widespread adoption: production costs before any economy of scale kicks in and the lack of refueling networks.

That’s the reason why Hyundai’s strategy in marketing its fuel cell-powered Tucson is interesting.

Starting out, the cars only will be leased at a select few California dealerships for a 36- month term with $2,999 down and a $499 per month payment. However, that payment includes unlimited hydrogen refueling.

If my math is correct, 15,000 miles of driving at 25 mph equals 600 gallons of gas. At $4 per gallon (LA prices), that’s $2,400 per year for fuel or almost five months of lease payments.

“To ease concerns as we build-out the hydrogen fueling network, we thought covering this cost for these early adopters in the monthly payment was the best approach. It’s our way of saying, ‘This is another thing you don’t have to worry about,’” says John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America.

Hyundai is betting on fuel cells, rather than EVs, to address the need for zero-emission vehicles, citing better range (approximately 300 miles for the fuel cells), shorter (10- minute) fueling stops, no moving parts in the fuel cells, and extensive crash, fire, and leak testing along with more than two million durability miles.

Etc.

Ram will add a small commercial van to its lineup as a smaller brother to the Ram ProMaster it presently markets. The new van will be based on the Fiat Doblo, which has sold 1.3 million units worldwide already … Previews of coming special editions: Kia will build 2,000 special Red Zone Editions of its 2014 Soul. The Souls will be white with red trim, have a body styling kit with red accents, custom 18-inch wheels, and a black-and- red interior theme. Meanwhile, VW is celebrating 10 years of its large luxury Touareg SUV with 1000 special X models based on its TDI clean diesel trim line. The models will be in moonlight blue metallic with special 19-inch wheels, badging, and black leather interior. The Touareg diesel has more than a 700-mile highway range with its 29 mpg highway rating … Honda’s plant in Lincoln, AL, which opened in 2001, recently produced its 3 millionth vehicle. The breakdown: Odyssey minivan (1.82M), Pilot SUV (1.02M), Ridgeline pickup (90,000), Acura MDX SUV (50,000), Accord sedan (27,000). The company’s East Liberty, Ohio, plant this month had its 1 millionth CR-V sport utility roll off the line in seven years of building the popular compact SUV.