Integrity Matters
February 19, 2003

Check before you list charges

Question: (E-023) I traded in a car in well-above-average condition, but with 40,000 miles on the odometer. When later I saw the car on the lot, it had only 12,000 miles on the odometer. What should I do?


  1. Assuming that the automobile is your former vehicle and not simply a look alike.
  2. Assuming that you read the odometer numbers correctly, and you have a bill of sale that clearly reports the actual mileage of your former automobile.
  3. Assuming that you can be sure the person who purchased the car from you has had the car in his or her possession (with no opportunity for a prankster to adjust the odometer).


  1. Go to the owner that purchased your vehicle and explain you are concerned that someone has placed you and his/her organization in a potentially complicated and/or legal situation.
  2. Clarify that if the vehicle was yours and has been adjusted, that you are aware that the Better Business Bureau would expect to have such information reported to them, and you expect the owner to act immediately or you will be compelled to do so.

    You might explain that when we cannot trust the numbers on the odometer, what other "trusts" might have been broken?

  3. Violations of "contracts," creating a level of mistrust that can permeate a profession, industry, community or an entire society, will interrupt the effective flow of goods and services. This interruption impacts productivity and profitability.

    When individuals and groups lose confidence in the integrity of a business or any institution, then governments will be compelled to take action and add regulations.

  4. Changing odometers is illegal. It is expensive for our society. It hurts business for everyone. If you cannot convince the leader of this enterprise to make the situation right, then our criminal system can.

JIM BRACHER is founder of the Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership in Monterey. His column, "Integrity Matters," appears Wednesday on the Business page. Readers are invited to submit questions on business-related ethics and values. Please write in care of INTEGRITY to The center's Web site is

Letter to the editor: (February 22, 2003)

The Feb.19 "Integrity Matters" business column by Jim Bracher was needlessly long and, in my opinion, offered poor advice.

The response should instead have included these actions for the questioner:

  • Check the vehicle's VIN to make sure it is the same car.
  • Check the odometer again to make certain you read it correctly the first time.
  • Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles' investigative division regarding the findings and request that they investigate.

This is what a good citizen should do when confronted with a potential violation of the law.
Going to the new owner, as was suggested, could place the questioner at needless risk.

There is no way of knowing what the new owner's reaction might be, especially if the new owner regularly engages in illegal practices.

It is also not the questioner's responsibility to provide the new owner with a lesson in ethics.

Any lesson to be taught should be taught by legal authorities.

Larry Widigen

Response to Widigen Letter (02-24-03)

Mr. Larry Widigen offered insightful suggestions in dealing with automobile odometer "roll back" activities.

Unfortunately, not all business transactions are conducted with high-integrity individuals.

Even so, Mr. Widigen's "by the book" approach could be so efficient that interpersonal relationships could be permanently injured. Our contrasting approach offers the owner an opportunity to correct any mistake.

Each of us wants to be a good citizen, practicing integrity-centered decision-making. Regardless of our responses, there are consequences. Each individual will want to weigh the costs and then proceed appropriately.

Obviously, there are many legitimate approaches to solving problems. We recommend that each reader remembers: "Integrity is one of several paths; it distinguishes itself from the others because it is the right path and the only one upon which you will never get lost." -- M.H. McKee

We appreciate reader input.


Jim Bracher

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