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Top 10 Reasons to Run a Vehicle History Report

By | Published January 8, 2012

People often ask me if they really need to run a vehicle history report on a used car they are about to buy. Many people overlook this important 11th hour tool of protection for the car buyer. We stress over and over here on that you must run a Vehicle History Report and also have a mechanic put the car up on a lift for inspection, otherwise do not buy that car. Many people try to do it on the cheap, figuring the car is only a few thousand dollars. What can go wrong? Even more than the cost of the car, what about the emotional stress? Image finding out you've been driving your baby around in a car that was previously totaled in another state and laundered back to 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?" So 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?"

No, you can't get your money back. It's frustrating to see this happen to people. I always want to ask them, "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 coins out the window.

So here are 10 reasons I compiled which explain why you should run a used car history report before buying a used car. If the first 2 reasons are not enough to convince you, then the other 8 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.

  1. The only person looking out for you is you, so trust no one. Got the idea now? Sellers pass the buck of blame and responsibility to you to have the car inspected and find 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.
  2. When buying a used car, you typically sign an As-Is Agreement. This means you cannot ever get a refund, even if you find out the car had been in a wreck. 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.
  3. The vehicle history report can show you if the odometer has been rolled back, because mileage data is being collected on every car. Mileage 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 time, the report alerts you in huge red letters, and you just saved yourself from a rapidly growing fraud.
  4. Car history reports tell you if the used car you're about to buy has been wrecked in a car accident, and in many cases, gives the accident case number.
  5. The report can tell you if the used car's title was ever branded as junked, salvaged, flooded, suffered hail damage, totaled in an accident, or failed inspection. There are the typical things you can't tell by looking under the hood. Sometimes your mechanic cannot 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.
  6. Vehicle History Reports also tell you how many previous owners a car has had, and how long each has owned the car. If you saw a report on a used car 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.
  7. The history report can show you things like oil changes and maintenance services that have been performed on the vehicle if the data is available. You may be able to tell if the oil was changed on time.
  8. The 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, and can give you a leg up in as you haggle a lower price.
  9. If the car has ever been returned by a previous owner to the manufacturer as a lemon car, or if it's involved in any type of recall. Again, this is info that your mechanic can't tell just by putting a car up on a lift.
  10. The report can tell you if an airbag has been deployed. That is often recorded when there is an accident.

Forget about getting a free vehicle history report, they are just teasers that tell you how many records there are for a particular car. Nothing useful is given to you for free. If you want real actionable intelligence you have to pay for it. Report providers must pay for their data, so we all have to pay to get it. Nothing is really free in life.

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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.

Author Jeff Ostroff

About The Author: Jeff Ostroff is a consumer advocate, Founding Editor and CEO of overseeing a team of expert authors. For over 17 years, he's been the recognized authority on car buying, leasing, used cars and financing. He developed sophisticated spreadsheet tools to help consumers negotiate on a level playing field. He is a widely sought out guru, cited by the press for his expertise in savvy car buying and preventing consumer scams. Jeff has been quoted in CNN, Bloomberg, MSNBC, Wall street Journal, Consumer Reports, NY Times, Reader's Digest, and many live call in radio shows. He has covered the automotive space since 1997. Jeff also has extensive experience and expertise in selling used cars for clients on eBay and Craigslist. Connect with Jeff via Email or on Twitter. has affiliate relationships with multiple web sites. We are paid referral fees for leads or sales generated from visitors that click on some links or fill out certain forms on this site. Please view our advertising policy page for more information.