The current shortage of new cars, coupled with steadily rising prices, have led many Malaysians to turn to used vehicles as a cheaper, more readily available alternative. But the used market has its own pitfalls, as one buyer recently found out.

Melvin, a member of the Prius Club Malaysia Facebook group, made a post saying he was looking to purchase a facelifted third-generation Toyota Prius and scoured several online classifieds. Going above and beyond the typical used car buyer, he asked the sellers for the cars’ plate numbers then cross-referenced them with UMW Toyota Motor to verify the claimed mileage based on their last service.

The eight units that Melvin checked were 2012 and 2013 units and all claimed to have mileage under the 120,000 mark, with the lowest being around 68,000 km. That figure, as it turned out, was make believe – the car was noted to have travelled 197,066 km by the time it underwent its 200,000 km service in November.

Two other Prii had their mileage tampered with, the most egregious example being a 2013 unit with a listed mileage of around 93,000 km that had actually logged a whopping 316,056 km. It isn’t surprising for a nine-year-old car to log high six-digit mileage but that’s more than 35,000 km a year! That vehicle was probably well taken care of, at least – it was last serviced at an authorised Toyota dealer in March.

Only one car on the list had mileage that was anywhere close to what was claimed – a 2013 unit with around 69,000 km listed mileage and a verified 66,831 km when it was last serviced in 2021. That car, however, wasn’t the desirable Luxury variant, so Melvin decided not to purchase a Prius after all.

Mileage tampering isn’t new, of course – it’s common practice with reconditioned car dealers, and in fact it’s rare for a Japanese-market vehicle to be sold in Malaysia with its actual mileage. But the fact that secondhand car dealers are doing it too (and with an official Toyota product at that) is another sign of unscrupulous parties doing whatever it takes to get a sale in this new normal.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. One user chimed in to say that he bought one of the tampered cars – a 2012 unit with a claimed 80,000 km on the clock but an actual mileage of 171,877 km. He said he was happy with his purchase, having gone to a hybrid specialist workshop and found that the hybrid battery was estimated to still be at 75% health. That’s not bad going for a ten-year-old car.

The main takeaway is that you always need to be wary of mileage claims on used cars and not assume that tampering only occurs in “recond” vehicles – even those brought in through official channels are susceptible to this issue. If the stated figure is too good to be true, it probably is.

And there really is no shame in buying a high-mileage car. Just because a vehicle has travelled hundreds of thousands of kilometres does not always mean it is in a bad condition, not if it’s been maintained properly and had its wear-and-tear components replaced as necessary. In fact, in most cases – especially if it’s not a highly-prized collectable – it’s better to buy a well-used car than one with a low mileage, as the latter means it has probably sat for extended periods of time. That comes with its own Pandora’s box of problems.

You can also take heart in the fact that Toyota has offered an eight-year, unlimited-mileage warranty for hybrid batteries since 2009. This would’ve lapsed on most (if not all) Prius models sold here, but it does mean that many owners would’ve taken up a replacement and thus have batteries that are four years old at most.

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