Used Car Vehicle History Reports - Complete Guide

Buying a used car can be a cheaper alternative than buying a new car. However, to keep yourself from making a costly mistake you should have vehicle inspected by a mechanic and review the vehicle's used car vehicle history report.

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It's not just accidents to worry about, there are thousands of vehicles involved in natural disasters and floods. These vehicles are purchased for pennies on the dollar, rebuilt and put back onto a dealer's lot for sale to the general public. If you don't know what you're looking at, you can end up buying one of these vehicles.

In this section I'll show you what is a vehicle history report, what they contain, where they get their information and why it's important to check the history on a vehicle before you buy it.

What is a Vehicle History Report?

It contains important information about a used vehicle's past acting as a vehicle's report card. A vehicle history report will show information about title records from the appropriate states Department of Motor Vehicles, along with any salvage, accident and insurance total loss records.

Do You Need a Vehicle History Report?

The short answer is "YES!" The reason why is because there is no way for you to look at a used car and tell what the vehicle's been through. Body shops do great work rebuilding a vehicle, there are some companies out there that all they do is buy insurance total loss cars, rebuild them and take them to other parts of the country to sell back to the general public. Reviewing a vehicle's past upfront can keep you from buying someone else's problems.

There are many dealers that provide you with a "free" report when you buy a car. They do this as a customer service in hopes of putting your mind at ease. Even if you're offered one, I still recommend purchasing your own. There have been many complaints filed, and fines paid by dealers, for creating false reports and providing out dated reports to consumers. This still doesn't help the customer that got stuck with the bad vehicle.

My advice is to spend the $25 and avoid the situation altogether. The money you spend on the report may save you from wasting thousands of dollars on a car. Taking this step will let you absolutely know the report has not been doctored or falsified.

Where Does Vehicle History Report Data Come From?

There are several areas these companies collect data and information. Some of the information is provided by the Federal Government and some of the better companies pay for the data they provide in their history reports. Some of these data sources are:

You will also find police-reported accident information from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They also collect data reported from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on storm damaged vehicles and any vehicles registered in an area of any major disasters in the nation.

What's Included on a Vehicle History Report

There are four main areas a vehicle history report will focus on, these areas include:

This collected data will help you see and understand potentially significant information on a used car you're looking to buy. Depending on information reported, it can tell you several different things about a used car:

Which Vehicle History Report is Best?

With several used car history report services online it can be difficult to decide which one will give you the most value for your money. I've personally pulled thousands of history reports, these companies can basically be broke down into two categories:

I've used many of these services in my dealerships to protect myself, my dealership, and my customers from buying an unreliable car. Reviewing a used car's history report is not a requirement however, it's becoming more important when uncovering underlying problems that are not visible to the naked eye.

Recommended Vehicle History Report Company

Most companies only allow you to buy one report at a time or they will sell you a small package of just 3-5 reports. This will limit you if you're browsing several vehicles at one time.

We recommend AutoCheck Vehicle History Reports, they are an Experian company. You may have not heard of them because they don't advertise like the others. Most major auto auctions and lenders use AutoCheck over its competitors because of how accurate they are in disclosing vehicles that have been rebuilt or branded with frame damage.

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We highly recommend the Multiple Reports Package which allows you to run 25 vehicle history reports for 21 days. This will give you more than enough time to research and compare as many vehicles as needed so you can make a good buying decision. If you believe you will need to run more reports, you can opt for the Unlimited Package which allows you to run unlimited reports for a three week time frame.

With the AutoCheck's Multiple Report plan you can even run history checks from your Smartphone, tablet or iPad while you're on the dealers lot looking at vehicles.

Single Vehicle History Report $24.99 - This option will allow you to run your report within 30 days of purchasing. If you know the exact car your looking to buy this option will allow you to get all the data you need to make a good buying decision. Click here for a single AutoCheck report.

The Multiple Report Package (Best Value) $49.99 - If you're unsure of the car you want to buy. You can run up to 25 reports for 21 days with this package, giving you peace of mind you purchased a reliable used car. Click here for the AutoCheck Multiple Report Package.

If you have just starting to shop for a used car and don't have a VIN? You can still get the Multiple Reports Package. Visit the AutoCheck Vehicle History Report web site here.

AutoCheck Buyback Protection Guarantee

One of the most valuable benefits to using AutoCheck to get a used car history report on your next used car is their Buyback Protection Guarantee; this is available to you at no extra cost. If a brand is found on a title after the vehicle is reported to be free of the brand, AutoCheck will provide coverage for what you paid for the car and will provide a refund of your purchase price.

They cover up to 110% of NADA published retail value if you find a covered title defect that also meets the terms and conditions of their guarantee. Simply, if they miss it, they'll buy it back.

Other Vehicle History Report companies will have a buyback guarantee available. What makes the AutoCheck Buyback program different from others is:

No matter whom you go with when purchasing a vehicle history report always familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of their "buyback guarantee."

AutoCheck vs. The Competition

Companies such as CARFAX® advertise heavily on the television and radio. I've used them along with AutoCheck in my dealerships. They are a very good company and like AutoCheck, provide a wealth of data and information.

For consumer use this is why I recommend AutoCheck over the competition:

WARNING - There are many new companies sprouting up on the internet advertising cheap vehicle history reports as long as you become a member. These are very thin reports and do not include much information. No reputable company will ask you to sign a membership or charge your credit card on a recurring basis. I've received many emails about this and have been told it can be very difficult to cancel your membership.

Odometer Fraud and Tampering

Odometer fraud is another major problem on the rise in the United States and Canada. One of the easiest ways for an unethical car dealer to make big profits fast is to "rollback" an odometer. Keep in mind, it's not always the dealer's fault, they may have bought the vehicle with the odometer already tampered with.

The introduction of digital odometers was supposed to make this impossible. However, it just made it easier for the scammers. The mileage is stored in the cars computer or brain. A talented hacker can get in and rollback the mileage of the vehicle to increase its value. I've personally seen how easy it is to rollback an odometer on a vehicle and it is something you should be worried about.

Not only can a digital odometer be rolled back, some scammers will completely remove the dash panel and odometer and replace it with another that has less mileage. This can be done in only a few hours and is undetectable to the naked eye.

These unethical practices cost unsuspecting car buyers millions of dollars a year. A vehicle history report will tell you if the odometer has been tampered with and protect you from buying a car that has a rolled backed odometer. Click here to visit AutoCheck Vehicle History Reports.

Natural Disasters

All you have to do is turn on the news to see another natural disaster taking place somewhere in North America. You ever wonder where all those vehicle's end up after a hurricane, tornado, wild fire or flood? Most of them end up salvaged, repaired and back into circulation for car buyers like you.

During Hurricane Katrina that almost 600,000 vehicles were reported to be damaged by flood and debris. Insurance companies pay off the actual cash value of these cars to the owners and lien holders. The insurance companies then send them to auctions to recoup as much money as they can. Normally pennies on the dollar.

Companies such as shade tree mechanics, body shops, repair facilities and even unethical dealers fix these cars and resale them to the public. I remember hundreds of these cars going through major auctions about 3 to 6 months after Katrina. Dealers and wholesalers attend these auctions to buy inventory for their dealerships. We had to be very careful, even as dealers, not to buy these cars. So many of these vehicles slipped through the system, most of us got stuck with a few of these cars in our inventories.

Another trick is to repair these vehicles and get them as far away as possible from where they were damaged. A car from Katrina, after repaired is less likely to be scrutinized if it is being sold in California or yes, even Canada. The short story is, you never know where a car will end up once it's repaired and put back into circulation.

Don't Fall for the Free VIN Check

All a free VIN check does is let you see how many records are attached to a vehicle. There may be only a few records attached to a vehicle. However, you want to review the complete history detailed information of the vehicle before you commit to spending thousands of dollars. Again, I stress it will be money well spent. Check your VIN for free here.

A Vehicle History Report is not Perfect

Purchasing a vehicle history report is not a substitute for having a used car inspected by a certified independent mechanic, it should be viewed as additional protection. There are many fender benders that never get reported to the proper authorities, hail damage is one that gets overlooked a lot. A mechanic can tell you if the car has been in a wreck or it has been painted no matter how small of a discrepancy it may have.

After checking the vehicle's history and before you sign the papers to buy the car, take the vehicle to a mechanic of your choice. Tell the mechanic you're looking to buy the vehicle and you'd like to know if he'd put it on a lift to see if the vehicle is a reliable car. Ask the mechanic if he would let his wife or daughter drive the vehicle? If he says yes, you know the car is in good shape.

Car Buying Tip - A vehicle history report will tell you about the title, use and odometer history about a car. A certified mechanic will protect you from any mechanical or cosmetic defects of the vehicle.

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My Recommended Sites for Car Shopping

Edmunds and CarsDirect are the quickest way to check used car prices in your local area. These online sites will provide you with free, no-obligation quotes and the prices you're quoted are normally very good. You can also use this free information to negotiate a better price between dealers.

Share Your Tips - If you have any tips on vehicle history reports that will help others save money, please tell us about it in the comments below, so we can share it with everyone.

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Did You Know?


When buying a used car, the two most important things you can do to protect yourself before signing on the dotted line are:

  • Have the vehicle inspected by an independent certified mechanic.
  • Acquire and review a used car vehicle history report.

A mechanic will put the car on a lift and inspect the cosmetic and mechanical systems of the vehicle and the history report will disclose any discrepancies in the vehicles title, use or odometer history to guarantee you're purchasing a clean reliable vehicle.

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