A common topic of confusion for our potential customers is exempt mileage. The majority of the cars at our dealership, or most any classic car dealership, have titles showing that the mileage is “exempt.” If you’ve never seen this term when shopping for a car, it might seem like a red flag, but it’s not. In many states, the miles are exempt on nearly every vehicle that has been sold or transferred after its tenth “birthday.”
It all started in 1972, with the Federal Odometer Act (FOA). The FOA was passed by Congress to protect consumers from odometer fraud, which has been a problem as long as there have been odometers. The premise for this law is that a vehicle’s mileage is one of the main factors consumers use to determine its reliability. So if the mileage has been tampered with, the buyer may end up making a decision that leads to unexpected maintenance and repair bills.
Under the FOA, when a vehicle is transferred, the seller must provide a written statement, documenting the mileage of the vehicle on the date of transfer. The seller is also required to disclose if the car’s mileage has exceeded its mechanical limit of 99,999 miles (rolled over), or if he or she knows that the mileage on the odometer is incorrect due to odometer malfunction, etc.
The Federal Odometer Act was a great step in the right direction for protecting car buyers. However, it had its limitations. One of its most noteworthy faults is that the older a car gets, the less reliable its mileage is, even if the seller signs a piece of paper to “verify” it. When the car has been on the road for many years, it is more likely that the mileage could be incorrect due to odometer malfunction or other circumstances.
Odometer malfunctions are a fairly common issue with the older mechanical systems- the cables are known to snap and the gears are known to round off. On rare occasions, the wheels of the odometer can even flip extra miles (for example- the mileage may go from 50,567 to 73,568 within one actual mile). An older car may have also been owned by a small number of individuals for long periods of time, meaning that its miles could have been rolled over without being reported (for example – someone could have bought a Corvette T-Top with 53,000 miles, drove it for 110,000 additional miles, and upon selling, reported 63,000 miles rather than 163,000).
For all of these reasons, most states, including our state of Pennsylvania, have passed laws to coincide with the Federal Odometer Act, exempting cars 10 years or older from the requirement of having mileage reported at the time of sale. When a car is sold in this scenario, the mileage is marked on the title as “exempt.” This is simply stating that the car has been around too long to reliably verify its mileage. In some cases, the sellers of classic cars with impressively low miles will have a statement notarized to verify the miles in order to keep them printed on the title, but this does not happen in most cases. Even when the seller does attempt to verify the miles, the state may not accept their request without additional notarized evidence (invoices for service indicating mileage on different dates, etc.). Once the mileage has been marked as exempt on a title, there is no way to change it back.
When dealing with classic Corvettes, we aren’t alarmed if the miles aren’t on the title. If a Vette is in very nice, original condition, and has low original miles that are still on the title, then it is a nice selling point. However, even if the mileage is on the title and correct, you can’t rely on this number to determine a classic car’s quality as you can with a car that’s just a few years old. After a certain period of time, the amount of care and maintenance that has been given to the car becomes much more important than the car’s miles. We would much rather buy a Stingray Corvette with 120,000 miles that has been well-maintained than a Vette with 20,000 miles that has been sitting for the past 20 or 30 years unused with little to no upkeep.
When purchasing C3 corvettes and other models for our inventory, instead of focusing on mileage, these are some qualities we consider (and you should too):
- Was it garage kept?
- Did it have regular maintenance like oil and other fluid changes, brakes, suspension work, etc. throughout its life?
- Are the frame or birdcage rusty?
- Are the hoses, tires, etc. cracked or dry rotted?
- Are there mechanical problems that have been overlooked for a long period of time?
Finding the answers to questions like this will paint a much more accurate picture than simply looking at the corvette’s mileage. Buying a Vette that has been well-maintained all its life means fewer surprises, less money spent fixing major problems, and more time spent having fun in your Vette! I mean, restorations can be fun, but only if you were planning to do one in the first place!
So that’s the story about mileage exemption. I hope I have answered your questions and helped you become better-informed in your search for a classic Corvette.