Under The Hood

Vehicle History Report: 5 Things To Check Before You Buy

So you're thinking about buying a used car huh? Better check that vehicle history report. There's quite a few different companies that perform this service, InstaVin, Car Fax, and Auto Check - among others. Whichever one you pick ( we recommend InstaVin) it's important that you know what to look for in the report. 

Let's dive in. 

1) Junk, Salvage, and Loss Events 

This one is a major red flag. Using data from insurance companies, law enforcement, auto repair centers, and motor vehicle departments, your vehicle history report will show you just how severe an accident occurred. Any vehicle that has been received by a junk yard or salvage auction has likely sustained major damage. Likewise, any vehicle that has been declared by an insurance provider to be a total loss has likely been completely destroyed. This is important, because a good body shop is capable of repairing a vehicle to look like the damage never occurred in the first place. However, while the car may look fine, after a major accident the structural integrity of the car will always be questionable. A salvaged car will sell for far less than normal resale value, so this is extremely pertinent information to know.

Note* Junk yards and Salvage auctions also re-market undamaged vehicles, so it is not a guarantee that the vehicle was involved in a terrible accident. 

When you see an event in this category the best thing to do is to get it taken to a mechanic for further inspection. 

2) Other Damage 

The vehicle history report will clue you in on more than just major accidents. Other damage is included too ( fire, floods, hail etc.) It also lets you know if the vehicle was used for more than just private use.

For example- for police use, taxi use, and rental use will all be distinguished in the report. 

or perhaps the vehicle was a manufacture buy-back lemon, or was used to produce Methamphetamine ( seriously) 

It's all there. 

3) Odometer 

The difference between a car with 10,000 and 100,000 miles is thousands of dollars. In an ideal world, everyone would be so honest that the thought of rolling back their vehicle's odometer would never even cross their mind. Sadly, this does happen. 

As a safeguard against this practice, what you can do is check the odometer section on your vehicle history report. Any time the car was brought in to be serviced ( oil change, emissions test, repair, etc.) its odometer reading will be recorded. That way, you can reference the the mileage from the last time the car was serviced, and its current reported mileage. If the number is less than the last visit, you'll know something fishy is going on. 

4) Title Information 

Your vehicle history report will tell you how many times a new title was issued, which often indicates a new car owner. Ideally, you want to buy a car that has had only one owner.

Why? Because if only one person has owned it, it's likely that the car has been driven in a consistent manner, and received a standard level of maintenance over its lifetime.

Here's an example. Let's say you're thinking about buying a car that has had three owners. One owner lived in a state with harsh winters, and habitually forgot to get oil changes for their car. Another lived in a city with rush hour traffic, and constantly was getting new brake pads. The last owner lived in a quiet rural small town, and just took the car out on weekends. 

See how accessing the condition of the car has now become quite complicated? Shoot for a car with two owners at the most. It's important to note that the vehicle history report title event isn't fool proof when it comes to indicating multiple owners. You can have cases of a car being registered in a new state, and this will be considered a "title event".  

In any case, it's always important to do your own investigating. 

5) Recalls 

Vehicle recalls are becoming very common. A safety recall happens when the NHTSA ( National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) determines a certain safety related part of a vehicle to be defective, causing an "unreasonable risk to safety". When enough of these defects occur in a particular car model, the NHTSA will ask the car manufacture to issue a recall on the vehicle so the defect can be fixed. 

If you take the vehicle to an authorized dealer that sells your car model, they will fix the issue described in the recall, as they are required by their contract with the manufacture. 

If you go to https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls, you will be able to see any open recalls that have not yet been fixed associated with the vehicle you're thinking of buying. All you need to do is provide them with the vehicle's VIN number, which will be included in your vehicle history report. 

Additionally, you can also read about common consumer complaints for the vehicle here : https://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchResults


We know that buying a car is a big decision, and that's why we include an InstaVIN vehicle history report for every single one in our marketplace. Because at the end of the day- the best car buyers and sellers are informed ones. 

Haven't experienced what we're talking about yet? 

See for yourself here