Ten Reasons to Get a Car History Check

Category: News. Written by Grant 

Buying a used car is no easy task. From finding the right car to cutting the final check, there are literally dozens of pitfalls that you can get trapped in if you aren’t careful. One of the best ways to mitigate your risk when buying a used car, is to get a vehicle history report.

The most well known provide of vehicle history reports are CARFAX and AutoCheck. Both provide detailed history reports on vehicles that are almost identical. I personally used AutoCheck in our features How to Buy a Car For Under $1,000 because it’s far cheaper than CARFAX and has an option for unlimited VIN checks over a period of 60 days (CARFAX has 10 checks for the same price).

1) Accident History
If you’ve been driving for any amount of time, most likely, you or your car has been in some kind of auto accident. It happens. With millions of drivers on the road, accidents happen each day. It’s important to know whether the car you are interested in buying has ever been reported in an accident, due to the damage that the car may have sustained. It’s also a good way to tell if a seller is lying to you, as any honest seller should tell you if the car was involved in an accident and how it was fixed. If a seller denies the car was in an accident or worse, you see evidence of a cover-up job, you will know to walk away. More importantly, if the car was recently in an accident as is now for sale – you should often run, not walk – as that car is likely unfixed and potentially illegal to drive.

2) Salvage and Rebuilt Title
Imagine this: You just bought a used car from that nice smooth talking gentleman for nearly a thousand less than the closest seller. It almost seems too good to be true. As you drive off, you notice your car pulling to the right and take it to the mechanic. An hour later, he comes back with and asks if you know your car is welded together from two completely different cars. This is an extreme story, but you would be surprised at the amount of rebuilt and salvage cars out on the road. Not all cars with rebuilt titles are junk, as they may have been worked on by a competent mechanic; but only the brave, desperate or mechanically inclined should honestly consider a salvaged vehicle. Not only that, these cars should always be sold with full disclosure as to their rebuilt title.

3) Flood Cars
Seattle is a region not typically known for it’s flooding. Occasionally, a 10 or 100 year flood comes around and claims cars, but otherwise, we have it safe here. Most drivers think that because flooding is rare in the area, there is no need to worry about flood damaged cars. Wrong. Cars damaged by flooding are often taken as far away as possible from flood regions, as buyers there are smart enough to avoid flood damaged cars. Unsuspecting consumers elsewhere in the country however, are in for a nasty surprise. If a car is claimed as an insurance loss due to flooding, the insurance provider is required to state that the car has been damaged as such.

4) Emissions Failure
This is often overlooked when buying a used car, namely because it’s hard (impossible, even) to actually tell if a car can pass an emissions check. A vehicle history check will show if a car has failed to pass the most recent emissions test. That said, it still is possible for a car to have passed the last emissions check but still fail, due to mechanical wear or damage between now and the last check. Never, ever, take an emissions failure lightly, because it will average between $1,000 to $2,000 just to get the car to pass emissions – and perhaps even more.

5) Odometer Rollback
Think that ’98 Honda Civic with 50,000 miles is too good to be true? Well, it probably is. Odometer rollback is a common practice with shady sellers and dealers. The unfortunate truth is that odometer rollback is very difficult to detect, because odometer readings are only required on vehicles during title registration and other major events – not for tab renewals. This means that unscrupulous seller can rollback the odometer anytime and keep the miles artificially low on a car. If the seller was overly greedy or stupid, they could roll back the odometer so far back that it would cause red flags to come up at the next odometer check. Most odometer rollbacks are subtle enough not to be caught, but major instances will be seen through a history check.

6) Lien /Loans on the Car
When a loan is taken out on a car, the DMV reports that a lien has been taken out on the vehicle. The majority of consumers take out a loan to purchase their vehicle, so this isn’t a major deal. That said, you want to be sure that the vehicle you are buying does not currently have a lien on it and that the vehicle is paid off. The vehicle history services all include a title check as well, which essentially tell you whether or not the car is safe to buy. Always remember to request to see the vehicle title before any purchase is made and verify that it is indeed the title to the car.

7) Ownership History
Most people prefer a car with a low ownership history, because that often means the car has been treated well and maintained long enough to be in running condition. A large amount of owners on a car might signal mechanical issues, poor maintenance and also a lack of documentation to go with the car. Here is Seattle, you can also see if the car has been used on the East Coast, where salt and corrosion may have damaged the under body. It’s also useful to verify a seller’s claim that the has only had X amount of owners.

8) Fleet / Rental Car
I put this here even though I don’t think fleet cars or rental cars are personally a huge liability. Yes, you’ll often hear about that buddy that took his rental car out to the parking lot and doing fishtails, but in reality, most rental car drivers are practical individuals. Fleet and rental cars sometimes have a history of not being maintained well, but you can always see in the history how long the rental car was kept in the fleet. Most rentals companies only keep cars for 1-2 years before selling, so the amount of use the vehicle gets isn’t horrific compared to the miles left in the car. You may prefer a non-rental car for your own mind set however, so it may or may not be important to you.

9) All other damage
While we’ve covered accidents, floods, odometer rollback and other pitfalls, there’s still a laundry list of events that may have happened to the car – fire, hail, stolen, insurance claim, etc.. You want to know if any of these have happened to your car for good reason.

10) It’s Cheap
Lastly, the most practical reason to get a vehicle history report is because it’s worth it! The cost of a vehicle check with AutoCheck is $15 for a single vehicle. That is less than what you would pay to fill the gas tank! The average used car is probably around $8,000 – which means that this car check costs less than a quarter of one percent of the price of the vehicle. For that little amount of money, you can save literally your entire investment by having the foresight to practice some due diligence on your vehicle before purchasing.

So remember, if you’re serious about buying a good quality used car, get a vehicle history report. They’re not always perfect, but it’s far better than the other option of doing nothing!

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7 Responses to “Ten Reasons to Get a Car History Check”

  1. Ronald F. Webster on August 7th, 2014 9:21 am

    Hello Grant,

    Ron here and I just wanted to say thank you for the great article. These tips on getting a car history check before buying a car are great. Most people won’t think about getting one done if they are buying are used from someone they think they can trust but as you said the check is quick and inexpensive. I would hate to buy a car and have it turn out to be a piece of junk just because I didn’t get it checked first. Thanks again for the great read! Looking forward to seeing more!

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