National Odometer Day – May 12, 2021

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WedMay 12

We’re always up for a long drive and, this time, we are driving straight to odometer-ville with National Odometer Day, which is celebrated yearly on May 12. We were unable to uncover the founder(s) of this day but we do know that the celebration is held to teach people about their odometers and how to better care for their vehicles so they stay in better condition for a longer time.

History of National Odometer Day

Traditionally a purely mechanical device, versions of the odometer appeared across history. Ancient Greece used specialists trained to measure footsteps and ancient Romans had their own versions of the odometers. Independent of these developments, odometers were also invented in the Han dynasty, in the form of a road carriage with a drum. As the story goes, each time the measurement of distance was met, a wooden figure would hit the drum. Experts consider this to be a highly advanced version of the odometer (considering the time) and cite this as the influence on the present odometer.

Multiple stories include the predecessor to the modern odometer as one developed for wagons and other horse-drawn vehicles to measure the distance they traveled. A special invention by a Mormon pioneer set the course for odometer development. William Clayton attached his device, a ‘roadometer,’ to his wagon that was heading west to Utah. This was followed by the invention of brothers Arthur and Charles Warner of the first odometer for an automobile, called the ‘auto-meter.’ The brothers went on to patent other items like the tachometer, a paper-making machine, an electric brake, and a power clutch. They also developed a thermometer for the motor but lost the patent to a lawsuit.

While technology has evolved over the ages, the odometer continues to record our distances traveled — only, it is now electronic.

National Odometer Day timeline

206 B.C. – 220 A.D.
Han Dynasty Invents The First Odometer

The first odometer, a road carriage with a drum, is invented in this period and is said to have influenced the birth of the modern odometer.

700–480 B.C.
Distance Starts Being Measured

Before the odometer, distance in ancient Greece is measured by ‘bematists,’ or people specially trained to measure distances by counting steps.

70 A.D.
Descriptions of More Odometers Pop Up

Early descriptions of odometers are given by Hero of Alexandria and many more prominent figures.

1600s
First Odometers Start Appearing on the Scene

These are developed for the automobiles of that age — wagons and other horse-drawn vehicles — to measure the distance they have traveled.

May 12, 1847
The 'Roadometer' Comes Into Being

A Mormon pioneer named William Clayton invents this device, attaching it to his wagon while heading into Utah — National Odometer Day is celebrated on this very day!

1903
The First Automobile Odometer Is Born

Arthur P. and Charles H. Warner of Beloit, Wisconsin patent the first odometer for an automobile, which they call the ‘auto-meter.’

National Odometer Day FAQs

Is the odometer the same as mileage?

No, the odometer is a device attached to the wheel of the vehicle that is used to measure the distance traveled by a vehicle, while the mileage shows the total distance the vehicle has traveled and/or the fuel expenses of this.

How is mileage calculated?

To calculate mileage we divide the miles traveled by the amount of fuel used to fill the tank. For example, if the trip shows 200 miles since you last filled up, and it took 15 gallons to refill the tank, we divide 200 by 15.

Can you change the odometer in a car?

Yes, you can, although resetting or changing odometers is a crime. Plus, doing this does not guarantee a higher selling price.

How To Celebrate National Odometer Day

  1. Go on a drive

    Celebrate your car and its parts by going on a long trip to a place of your choosing. You can even make memories by taking pictures of your drive and posting them on your social media.

  2. Learn about the odometer

    More specifically, learn about your own car’s odometer. Every vehicle owner needs to know the ins and outs of their vehicles. Start by reading up on your odometer and how it came to be.

  3. Use your odometer efficiently

    Get into the habit of tracking your miles and resetting your odometer after each trip. By keeping track, you’ll be better able to be more fuel-efficient, maintain your car, and ensure it is performing well.

5 Fun Facts About Odometers

  1. The word 'Odometer' has Greek roots

    ‘Odometer’ is a combination of 'hodos,' which means ‘way’ or ‘path’ and 'metron,' which means 'measure.'

  2. Different names, same machine

    In different countries, odometers are called by various names like mileometer, milometer, or tripmeter.

  3. Most modern cars have a trip odometer

    Called a tripmeter, this machine can be reset at any point in a journey to help calculate the distance traveled at any point, unlike an odometer.

  4. Modern cars have one, luxury cars have two

    Many luxury vehicles have a pair of tripmeters.

  5. Odometer law

    In many countries (including the U.S.), the law requires vehicle mechanics to keep records of your odometer every time you service your vehicle.

Why We Celebrate National Odometer Day

  1. We learn to appreciate our cars

    They're responsible for taking us from point A to point B and everywhere in between, and yet, we do not know enough about our cars. Days like National Odometer Day give us a chance to learn about our vehicles and prompt us to take better care of them.

  2. They write a memoir of our journeys

    Odometers were invented to measure how far we traveled from our starting point. In a way, the modern odometer is a record of our trips and travels around the country.

  3. It helps us spot fraud

    These are rarely found in new cars anymore, but knowledge of odometer reading comes in handy when purchasing a used car. While tampering with the odometer to increase resale value is more common than you would think, learning about the odometer and, consequently, how to calculate the mileage means you are more likely to spot fraud.

National Odometer Day dates

YearDateDay
2021May 12Wednesday
2022May 12Thursday
2023May 12Friday
2024May 12Sunday
2025May 12Monday