Germany: Billions in damage through speedometer manipulation

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Billions in damage through speedometer manipulation

Germany: Billions in damage through speedometer manipulation-germany

Fraudsters can manipulate the mileage at will – and even reset it to zero if necessary

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Manipulation of the mileage is becoming a popular sport. Every third used car is fudged. Electronics could contain the fraud. But not all automakers are interested in it.

D.he officers came at six in the morning, around 500 police officers searched more than 150 homes and companies in and around Munich. Afterwards, the authorities celebrated the raid as the first big blow against the "speedometer mafia". Prosecutors seized 230 cars – including many luxury cars – and arrested 26 men, most of them car dealers.

With the devices secured by the “Tacho” investigation team, mileage can be reset as required. Or odometers are tuned in such a way that they only register every second kilometer driven. That turns a decrepit car into an attractive hit on the used car market. For example, a confiscated BMW with 700,000 kilometers actually driven was offered with an odometer reading of 150,000 kilometers turned back. This increased the market value from 5,000 to 15,000 euros.

Damage of six billion euros

Speedometer manipulation has become a popular sport in Germany. TuV Sud has already identified a "sad tradition", the testing organization KuS speaks of a "real business model". In view of the economic damage of six billion euros annually, speedometer trickery is no trivial offense, according to the ADAC. Police experts estimate that the mileage of every third used vehicle has been manipulated.

Politicians have also recognized the danger. The Schleswig-Holstein minister of consumer protection, Juliane Rumpf, calls for "a common solidarity in the fight against odometer manipulation". Bavaria’s Justice Minister Beate Merk is calling for the sentence to be increased from one year to at least three years. The leader of the Munich speedometer gang has now been sentenced to two and a half years for several offenses, and some of the proceedings against the 90 suspected fraudsters are still ongoing. The threshold for manipulation for them was extremely low.

Parallels to radar detectors

The Federal Constitutional Court made it clear six years ago that the provision of software that is used to repair and adjust speedometers is not a criminal offense. Arnulf Thiemel, head of ADAC vehicle technology, sees parallels here with the radar warning devices in navigation devices: "They can also be sold, but not activated." Speedometer adjustment ”subverted.

Because the law is vaguely worded, the buoyant trade cannot be curbed. Devices for tachometer manipulation can be operated by laypeople and conveniently ordered for around 500 euros on the Internet. If you need external help, you can get it too. Obscure "service providers" offer their work for as little as 50 euros. Upon request, the manipulators can even come to a previously agreed meeting point.

Protection would be easy and cheap

“More than six million used car customers are paying the bill for this hustle and bustle,” complains ADAC expert Thiemel. He meets regularly with representatives of the chip manufacturing industry, security companies and car manufacturers. But the eagerness to put an end to the crooks has slowed down. "Probably because, like insurers and leasing companies, they do not suffer any financial damage."

There are very simple and inexpensive protection mechanisms, says Marcus Janke, Head of Product Safety at the chip manufacturer Infineon. “The investment in forgery-proof updates would be in the single-digit euro range per car.” Chips that add basic security functions to a computer could, for example, prevent a speedometer from counting backwards.

It is incomprehensible that manipulation can be carried out at all via the diagnosis box in the on-board computer and a software mechanism in the speedometer control unit. “This function would have to be removed first by the car manufacturers and their suppliers,” demands an expert from the semiconductor sector. Then the hackers would be forced to remove the speedometer. "That would be so expensive that many customers would drop out."

BMW is promoting speedometer protection

Making manipulation uneconomical is the strategy of the anti-speedometer coalition. Another means is the forgery-proof "electronic resume" of a car. Ulrich Eichhorn from the Association of Automobile Manufacturers (VDA) believes, however, that technology alone cannot prevent odometer manipulation. "Every maintenance and repair, including the mileage, has to be documented seamlessly," demands the long-time head of technology at the Volkswagen subsidiary Bentley.

Along with Volkswagen, BMW is one of those in the industry who are promoting the speedometer protection of their cars. “The speedometer protection in our vehicles is based on a combination of components specially developed for BMW and the distribution of the function to several control units. This means that it is no longer possible to manipulate the mileage using diagnostic devices on all models built after 2000, ”assures Peter Dietrich, consultant for maintenance, repairs and environmental management. "Because to do this, the speedometer would have to be removed and dismantled – and that would leave clear traces."

Immobilizer as a positive example

According to ADAC technician Arnulf Thiemel, the electronic immobilizer has proven that an electronic protective screen can work in a car: "This has reduced the number of car thefts in Germany from well over 100,000 to just under 20,000 per year."

However, there is never absolute protection, says Infineon expert Marcus Janke. “It can only be a matter of increasing the effort involved in manipulating the odometer reading so that it is no longer worthwhile in relation to the increase in the price of the used vehicle. And the fraudsters simply lose the fun of it. "

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