Top 10 Reasons to Run a Vehicle History Report
Published January 8, 2012 | Updated March 6, 2019
Do you know what a vehicle history report is and have you ever seen one? People often ask us if they really need to run a vehicle history report on a used car they are about to buy, thinking they can figure out any issues with a used car before they buy it. Don't fall into this trap, or you may shoot yourself in the foot and wind up with a lemon car. Too many used car buyers overlook this important 11th hour protection which could save them from buying a total disaster used vehicle.
We have the pulse of the car buying market and for years thousands of visitors every month come to us for our expertise, but often they come to us too late after the damage has been done by their self-inflicted ignorance and failing to adequately check the sorted past of the used car they were about to buy.
For used car shoppers, we have stressed over and over here on CarBuyingTips.com since our founding in 1999 that you must run a Vehicle History Report and you must also have a mechanic put the used car up on a lift for inspection, otherwise do not buy that car.
You should also be reading our Used Car Guide so you'll have the full picture on everything you need to know to purchase a used vehicle and avoid scams. You still need to run a vehicle history report like we tell you here, but this is only one piece of a much larger and complex puzzle of buying used vehicles.
Many car shoppers tend to have their brains on auto pilot when researching their car purchase, figuring the car only costs a few thousand dollars. the danger here is the higher the cost of the vehicle and the more badly they want it, car fever inebriates their brains and they seem to overlook everything, in order to shorten their time to acquire the vehicle, never predicting things can go so far south on them in a hurry.
They must all be thinking what can go wrong? Even more than the cost of the car, what about the emotional stress when they discover they just spent $15,000 on a used car that has a previous accident in the vehicle's history report? Imagine finding out you've been driving your young child around in a car that was previously totaled in another state and laundered back to a good used car status in your state. I often get emails from people like a broken record, something like this:
"Jeff, I bought a used car not too long ago. I just brought it in for an oil change, and the mechanic had my car on a lift and said, "did you know the car was wrecked before?" I ran a used car history report and it shows the accident in the report. I feel ripped off by the car dealer. What can I do? Can I demand my money back?"
Does that sound like you? Do you want that person to be you? We don't want that person to be you, so learn from their mistakes, not yours. Unfortunately, we hear this story too many times, and we don't want to see you, or any other consumer get taken for a ride while spending your hard earned dollars on a used car.
Pondering over the used car shopper's story above, what do you think? Can you get your money back on a used car from a dealer if you find something wrong after you purchase it and drive it home?
Contrary to popular opinion, you can't get your money back. But unfortunately for many people, they erroneously think they can get their money back, and they use this false belief as an empty crutch, or they think it is their safety net to lean back on. It's frustrating to see this happen to people. You should never rely on some law to help you. The idea is to avoid the obstacle in the road, so you never have to spend money in court to enforce a law.
Almost all used cars are sold "As Is", with no warranty, so it it your responsibility to have the car thoroughly checked out by and expert prior to purchase, rather than try to rely on some non-existent consumer protection law to intervene on your behalf. You don't want to be this person who ends up with a lemon car, so heed our warnings. We really want to ask these people, "When did you suddenly get the wisdom to spend money to run a vehicle history report? Why didn't you do it before you bought the car, not after?" That's like driving through a toll gate first, then throwing the toll money out the window.
Below are 10 reasons which our staff of expert consumer advocates compiled for you which explain the benefits of, and why you should run a used car history report before buying a used car. If the first 2 reasons itemized below are not enough to convince you why you should get a report, then the other 8 reasons that follow should do the trick. If not, you have been warned. You might be an expert mechanic, but you have no idea where this car has been or if it's been bad or good, wrecked or flooded.
- The only person looking out for you is you: We have been warning consumers since day 1, so trust no one. Got the idea now? Sellers pass the buck and play the blame game, laying the responsibility solely on your shoulders, because you failed to have the car inspected to reveal what's wrong with it. So do it, and run a vehicle history report now or you could be sorry later, it's that simple. If something goes wrong later, you are pointed to as the bad guy, the sloppy consumer who failed to do their homework, yet knowingly purchased the used car anyway without a few basic sanity checks. The car dealer will say you bought it and they will display the signed contract in which you acknowledged and accepted responsibility for the "As Is" used vehicle. Should anything be found to be wrong with your car, you now have no recourse, because there are no returns, all sales final, no exceptions.
- As-Is Agreements: When buying a used car most of the time you typically sign an As-Is Agreement. there will be a federally mandated Buyer's Guide window sticker informing you this car has no warranty. This means you can never get a refund, even if you find out later the car had previously been in a wreck and repaired and laundered back to normal status again. Even if the car salesperson failed to disclose the previous accident to you, you still cannot get your money back. If you run a used car report first and it indicates the car was in a previous accident, you would never buy that car in the first place, and you'll save yourself a world of grief later.
- Odometer Rollback: The vehicle history report can show you if the odometer has been illegally rolled back, because mileage data is being collected on every car. It is a violation of federal law to tamper with an odometer. In today's digital age, it is very easy to hook a computer up to a certain computer module in your dashboard and easily set the digitized mileage back to your desired value. Don't like the fact that your lease only allows you 60,000 miles but you drove 100,000 miles and face stiff mileage penalties? No problem, there's fraudsters advertising on Craigslist who will roll back your mileage for $200. We have a lot of expertise investigating this criminal activity and have helped with news stories with new stations to alert the public about this, so trust us this issues does exist. Mileage on your car is recorded during state inspections, change of ownership, registration, or when the car is serviced. The mileage should be increasing as time goes by. If suddenly the recorded mileage on that used car is lower than a previous data point in time, the vehicle history report alerts you in huge red letters, and you just saved yourself from a rapidly growing disturbing criminal fraud being carried out against used car shoppers and leasing companies. At the end of the day, you can't tell whether your odometer was physically altered, because it is stored as numbers in a memory chip which were altered.
- Previous Car Accident: Car history reports can often tell you if the used car you are about to buy has been wrecked in a car accident, and in many cases, they display the accident case number acquired from the municipality where the accident occurred. The reports can even tell you if the airbags were deployed during the car accident. Every time we buy a used car, we specifically look for the previous accidents section in the report, and if it shows a previous accident, that is perfect justification for us to demand that the seller lower their price of the car. Many times, even the seller does not know their used car for sale was previously wrecked by the person who owned that car before them. Remember, most used car buyers fail to perform adequate due diligence, so you should expect that the person selling you their car might unknowingly own a previous wreck. They could be completely oblivious to the "accident car" status on the vehicle's history report.
- Junked, Salvaged, Flooded: The report can tell you if the used car's title has been branded as junked, salvaged, flooded, suffered hail damage, totaled by an insurance company in an accident, or if it failed inspection. There are the typical red flag issues you can't tell by looking under the hood. Sometimes your mechanic might even be unable to tell you these important details either. Hurricanes cause major damage losses and floods to thousands of cars each year and you need to protect yourself from ending up with one of these vehicles. Flooded cars are often shipped to other states, dried out, rebuilt, re-branded and have their previously branded title laundered back from flooded status to regular old used car status, and resold in another state. Think you are safe because you live 1,000 miles from Houston? How soon people forget about Hurricane Harvey, and that he destroyed about 1 million cars when much of Houston was under water. Harvey damaged many thousands of cars. Where do you think those 1 million cars ended up? Hopefully not in your driveway.
- Multiple Previous Owners: Vehicle History Reports also tell you how many previous owners a car had, and how long each person owned the car. If you saw a data point on a used car report showing 4 owners in 3 years, a big red flag should go up, and you should avoid buying that car. Who knows why all these owners only had the car for a year or so, but you shouldn't hang around to find out why. If you decide you really want this car, then you should really work to negotiate that selling price way down with the owner, don't take their word for it that there is nothing wrong with car. If there was nothing wrong, they would not be selling that car to you.
- Lack of Proper Scheduled Maintenance: The history report can show you other red flag issues like oil changes and maintenance services that have been performed on the vehicle if the data is available. Most franchised car dealerships and even some independent car repair shops are able to provide service records data which makes it onto the CARFAX or Autocheck vehicle history reports. You may be able to tell if the current owner has diligently performed their oil changes on time. If the history report shows that maintenance was not performed per schedule, you could really start to work on the seller to chisel that price down, because a car that was never maintained, or failed to receive oil changes is a $5,000 engine repair just waiting to happen. Many savvy used car shoppers who read our guides here know to use this to their competitive advantage when negotiating the selling price of used car.
- Dates of Ownership Changes: The history reports will tell you the dates that the vehicle changed ownership. This is very powerful intelligence for you to have if you are haggling with a used car dealer on the selling price. If you know the dealer bought this car at a wholesale auction 6 months ago, and it's still sitting on the lot unsold, it's costing them money in interest. You can capitalize on this fact and this gives you a leg up as you haggle a lower price from the salesperson.
- Previous Lemon Car: The reports also give you other golden nuggets of information such as whether the used car you are considering has ever been returned by a previous owner to the manufacturer as a lemon car under the state's Lemon Laws, or if this vehicle is currently involved in any type of recall. Again, this is critical but necessary info that your mechanic can't tell just by putting a car up on a lift, it has to be searched on the history report. If there is still an open recall that has not been satisfied, this can be a major buying opportunity for you to demand a lower price from the seller, because open recall cars can be dangerous. We have seen numerous instances in the past where eBay has automated system checks that will remove your item for sale if there are any open recalls from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. eBay Motors and the main eBay site will not allow you to reinstate your listed item until you prove the recall was satisfied.
- Airbag Deployment: The report can tell you if an airbag has been deployed as the result of a car accident. That is often recorded by the police when there is an accident, and the case number details will contain all this information. This arises out of previous years of epidemic waves of airbag fraud, where unscrupulous repair ships patch up the accident car, but don't replace the $800 airbag to keep more of the insurance money for themselves and scam the next owner of the car who has no clue they are driving around with no airbags. For this reason, when we specifically want to buy a previous accident used car, we always look for the section on the vehicle history report with the specific details concerning the accident, and we look for the report to state that the airbag was not deployed. This is how we know we can buy this car with some degree of confidence that it was not involved in a major crash, but you still need to perform your due diligence and have your mechanic put the car up on a lift and search for any frame damage.
Forget about getting a free vehicle history report, they are just teasers offering you nothing useful, which typically tell you how many records there are for a particular car. Nothing useful is given to you for free ever. Companies don't spend millions of dollars a year paying developers and other employees to develop something useful just to give it away to you for free.
If you want real actionable intelligence on a used vehicle which you want to buy, you must pay for it from real companies with real data, not from fake copycat sites offering watered down VIN Decode Reports. Heed our warnings about these no name report sites who are trying to a sucker you into buying their cheap "vehicle history report", which you'll find has 8 pages of no useful data, but fluff and VIN decode data that gives you nothing about the actual history of that car. Legitimate history report providers mentioned above must pay for their data, so we all must pay to get it. Nothing is free in life.
Remember you'll need a lot more education than just this page so before you head out to buy your car, read our Used Car Guide
These are just a few of the reasons for running a vehicle history report. For more details, actual screen shots, and how to use and read the reports, read our full section on Vehicle History Reports to avoid thousands of dollars in losses when buying used a car.
About The Author: Jeff Ostroff
A lifelong consumer advocate with over 20 years of unparalleled expertise, Jeff is the Founder, CEO and Editor-In-Chief of CarBuyingTips.com. As chief consumer advocate, he oversees a team of experts who cover all aspects of buying and selling new and used cars including leasing and financing.
For decades, Jeff has been the recognized authority on vehicle purchasing, sought out often by the media for his decades of experience and commentary, for live call-in business radio talk shows and is cited often by the press for his expertise in savvy car shopping methods and preventing consumer scams and online fraud. Jeff has been quoted in: CNN, MSNBC, Forbes, New York Times, Consumer Reports, Wall Street Journal and many more.