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Buying A Car: Understanding Vehicle History


Consumers in the market for a used car need to do their homework. The best way to prepare for used car shopping is to have a basic understanding of a vehicle’s history. This includes everything that happens to a vehicle from the time it is first sold that involves using a VIN (vehicle identification number) to track.

Making an initial investment in a vehicle history report is a good first step in the used-car buying process. The two best-known companies providing this service are AutoCheck and Carfax.

What can you learn from vehicle history reports?

Why should you get a vehicle history report in the first place? For one thing, a vehicle history report is a comprehensive look at the vehicle. Call it the DNA of a car. Unlocking the DNA can provide a lot of valuable information that you, as the buyer, need to know.

MORE: See What is a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)? and Using VIN Numbers to Check Car Accident History

For example, a vehicle history will detail if the car has ever been in an accident, if it was damaged due to hail or flood, was vandalized, stolen, issued a salvage-title, declared a total loss by an insurance company.

Other information outlined in the vehicle history report is a list of the car’s owners, length of ownership, last reported mileage, any airbag deployment, whether the car was rebuilt, mileage rollback and more.

What’s important – and what’s not so important?

Buying a used car without knowing where it’s been and what’s happened to it is a gamble. You could be getting a flood-damaged car without knowing it. According to Carfax, there are over 210,000 cars on U.S. roads today with reported flood damage. Texas alone has more than 30,000 flood vehicles – the most of any state. If a vehicle was in a flood, you’d want to know this information.

A vehicle history report will also let prospective buyers know if the car is a lemon – a vehicle that’s had numerous severe issues and been termed a “lemon.”

Even though the car looks to be in perfectly acceptable condition, it could be hiding costly repairs due to an accident. Without a vehicle history report, you’d have no idea. A few months or a few thousand miles down the road and you could be in for additional problems that were unseen when you bought the car. A vehicle history report will alert you to the car’s checkered past. At that point, you can ask for copies of all the repair work, talk with the mechanic that did the work, have the car professionally inspected – or walk away and look for a car with a better vehicle history report.

Mileage can be an important point to consider, especially if it seems like a car should have more miles on the odometer for its model year than actually show. The odometer could have been rolled back, something you wouldn’t be able to determine by looking at it. A vehicle history report, however, can alert you to this fact. On the other hand, mileage may not be that big of an issue, being in line with what you expect. You might still want to know how long a vehicle was in the possession of each owner and where it has been (what states it was titled in, for example).

Service and repair history and whether the vehicle was part of any safety recalls are other important pieces of information.

As for which company to select for the vehicle history report, each has its areas of differentiation, but both provide the same basic information. Opt for the single report or pay a little more to gain access to unlimited vehicle history reports for 30 days.

For peace of mind, if a used car is in your future, the cost of a vehicle history report can more than pay for itself.

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