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benefits of a vehicle history report

What are the top benefits of a vehicle history report?

If you’re in the market for a used car, then you must have heard by now about car history reports. But do you know all the benefits of a vehicle history report? And do you know how to leverage the information they contain to avoid making bad deals and to negotiate the car’s price in your favor?

In this article, we’ll break those questions down so you can buy a used car with more confidence and hopefully help you steer clear of any dangerous or costly deals.

What is a vehicle history report?

To get your hands on a vehicle history report all you need is a few minutes of your time and the car’s Vehicle Identification Number, VIN for short. Usually, service providers such as Carfax or carVertical compile car history reports by scouring through hundreds, if not thousands of databases belonging to law enforcement, insurance agencies, service shops, etc. They search for information about a car’s past based on the vehicle’s VIN and compile all the findings into a report that’s easy to read, even by people who know nothing about cars. 

What can a vehicle history report show me?

A comprehensive vehicle history check is a great tool when buying or selling a used car. It can give you a glimpse into the vehicle’s past, providing solid, reliable data that can reveal:

  • Real mileage – most used car reports contain the vehicle’s service records or at least a part of them. In those records, you’ll be able to find periodic mileage readings that have been registered in the system by mechanics who did maintenance or repair work on the car. A great set of data to spot the all-too-common practice of mileage rollbacks.
  • Damages and reported accidents – the vast majority of accidents get reported to either an insurance company or an auto service shop or both. One of the major benefits of a vehicle history report is getting access to information about the damage the car has suffered in the past and the accidents it’s been involved in. Vehicle history reports help you visualize this data with the help of car sketches that highlight the affected areas. Getting access to the car’s accident history will help a professional mechanic inspect it better and give you a verdict on the quality of the repairs. 
  • Theft records – if the car’s been stolen and reported as such to the authorities, then there’s a high chance that you’ll be warned about that in a vehicle history report. Buying a stolen vehicle is one of the worst possible scenarios you can find yourself in as you risk getting the car impounded by the police and losing all the money you paid for it. 
  • Current car value – if there is enough data in the market, you can get an estimate of the model’s current value that will help you in the negotiation process.
  • Prior uses – another vital insight into a car’s past is whether or not it’s been used as a taxi or a rental and most vehicle history reports will answer that for you. A commercially used vehicle is likely to register greater wear and tear and worth less than a similar car with similar mileage that’s been used by a regular person.
  • Number of past owners – even though you don’t get specific information about individuals, you can see how many owners a used car had during its life. Too many in a short period of time is usually a very clear sign that there’s something wrong with the car and should be considered a red flag.
  • Safety recalls – manufacturers sometimes issue recalls to fix serious safety-related problems. And when they do, they send a notification only once, to the car’s current owner. If you buy a vehicle that had a safety recall but was never taken in to get the problem fixed, you’ll likely put yourself and your family in danger by driving it. A vehicle history report will check across multiple manufacturers to see if your car has an active safety recall.

Where does the data come from?

Different service providers have different sources for their data but they usually collect information from state registries, insurance companies, auto repair shops, connected vehicle fleets, etc.

When checking a car’s history, it’s vital that you cast a wide net so that’s why you should consider providers that cover at least most if not all European countries and the US. Service providers such as Carfax and carVertical don’t own the data presented in the reports but access them from hundreds of sources and compile them into an intuitive report.

When do you need a vehicle history report?

The short answer would be every time you have to deal with a used car. When buying a new vehicle, there’s no reason to buy a history report, obviously. But the need to do a history check when buying or selling a second-hand car should be just as obvious. Let’s see why.

Obtaining a car history report before buying a used car

The benefits of a vehicle history report are greatest when buying a used car. For a very small price, you get to see if what the buyer is telling you is true or if they’re lying. Used car salesmen are notoriously glib and some are downright shady. Scams are a common occurrence in the used car market, a space that’s famous for its lack of transparency.

And even if the seller seems like a good person, you should never rely on what they’re telling you without putting it to the test.

A comprehensive vehicle history check is not a silver bullet, it can’t keep you safe from all wrongdoers on the market, but it can:

  • Save you time by highlighting obvious problems with some of the used cars that you’re interested in. If you see that a used car has been totaled in the past, then it’s not worth seeing it in person. Same with stolen cars or vehicles that have had their odometer tampered with. A vehicle history report will help you instantly spot the bad apples and discard them so you can have more time looking at and negotiating a better price for a solid, reliable used car.
  • Point you in the right direction, by highlighting the car’s weak spots. If you have access to the car’s accident history, for example, you can ask a professional mechanic to closely inspect the parts of the car that have been damaged.
  • Keep you out of harm’s way by alerting you about possible theft records, title changes, or safety recalls.
  • Help you negotiate a better price by arming you with undisclosed information from the vehicle’s past. If the car’s been in an accident and the seller failed to mention that to you, the car might still be worth buying, but at a considerable discount.

Used car reports are one of the best deals you’ll come across in your car-buying journey. They are cheap and offer reliable information that can save you time, money, or possibly your life.

Obtaining a car history report before selling a used car

If you are selling a used car and you have nothing to hide, obtaining a vehicle history report will likely cut the time it will take to make the sale and it will help you keep the final price as high as possible. That’s because a history report acts as proof to back your claims. You might know your car inside out, but prospective buyers will have dozens of questions to ask, many of which can be answered by a vehicle history check.

The report also makes you look trustworthy and transparent, and it cements your claims. Many used car buyers won’t take your word on anything unless they see proof. A history report is a great way to build trust and cut straight to what’s important.

Top 3 red flags that tell you that you need a car history report

Any tool is as good as you’re able to use it. For example, you have to know how to read vehicle history reports for them to be of any use to you. And even more important is to know when you absolutely need one to ensure your safety.

Here are the top three cases in which you should get a car history report before buying a used car:

  1. Used car with low mileage – although it’s not necessarily a bad sign, an old car with low mileage is definitely a red flag. How many miles should a used car have? Well, it varies, but according to the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration), the average American driver will drive 13,476 miles annually. Although age and gender play a huge role in how much someone drives every year, a good rule of thumb is to add 1,000 miles for every month of a car’s life. If you find a used car that has significantly less average monthly miles, you could be looking at a clocked vehicle.
  2. Multiple owners – another classic red flag for used cars, having had multiple owners in a short interval likely means that the car has hidden issues. You can see the number of previous owners and the dates on which the car changed hands with the help of a car history report.
  3. Structural damages – if there is any indication of structural damage, such as unaligned body parts, then you should obtain a vehicle history report to see proof of what exactly happened. Armed with this information you can decide whether or not it’s worth taking the car to a mechanic and if so, you can point out the parts that need to be carefully inspected.

How do I get in possession of a vehicle history report?

To obtain a vehicle history report, you usually only need to know the car’s VIN (vehicle identification number). A VIN code is a unique set of digits and letters that acts as a car’s fingerprint, making it possible to trace all the registered events from its history.

You can find the VIN code directly in the car’s classified ad, or you can ask the seller to send it to you. If they refuse to do so, that should be considered a major red flag, and it would be wise for you to look for another used car.

Once you’re in the VIN’s possession, you can choose a vehicle history report service provider such as carVertical, Carfax, or AutoCheck. All these companies have online platforms where you can input the car’s VIN, pay a fee, and in a couple of minutes you’ll get access to the car’s data in the form of a comprehensive history report.

Fees are normally very low and most companies that generate used car reports also offer packages where you can buy 2-5 reports at once, at a discount.

You can download vehicle history reports in PDF format, or you can check them directly through the service provider’s website, but only for a limited period of time. You can usually see your generated reports for 30 days on the company’s platform, so it’s always a good idea to download the PDF file if you want to have access to them for longer.

What should I do after getting a vehicle history report?

A comprehensive vehicle history check will arm you with lots of information about a car’s past. But what do you do with that information? 

There are six stages you should go through after looking at the data collected in a vehicle history report:

  1. Decide if the car is worth it. The first thing you should do is check if the car’s stolen, if it was involved in an accident, if it has legal problems, etc. Browse through the report to see if there are any dealbreakers revealed.
  2. Compare the data in the report with what the seller told you about the car. Being able to verify the seller’s claims is one of the biggest benefits of a vehicle history report. You can see at a glance if the seller is lying or if he was truthful, something that was impossible just a few years ago.
  3. See if the price is worth it. Some lies or omissions can be overlooked if the price is right. Take all the data in the report and find out what a similar car to the one you’re interested in is worth.
  4. Provide your mechanic with guidance. Take the data in the report and present them to the mechanic who’s helping you inspect the car before buying it. Knowing about past accidents or if the car’s been used as a taxi will help technicians concentrate their efforts where it matters most, so they can give you a more accurate analysis of the car’s current condition.
  5. Negotiate a better price. You should take the info in the report and what the mechanic observed during the car’s inspection and negotiate a better price.
  6. Store the report for when you sell the car. It’s always a good idea to hang onto the report so that when you sell the car in the future, you have solid proof of its history.

Obtaining a vehicle history report before buying a used car should be standard practice. It can help you avoid costly mistakes, and it maximizes the chances of you getting a solid, reliable car that you can safely drive for years to come without having to invest too much into its maintenance. We hope we shed some light on the most important benefits of a vehicle history report.


How much is a vehicle history report?

Prices vary from one service provider to another but you can usually obtain a report for under $15, especially if you buy bundles.

How can I check a car’s history for free?

You can’t check a car’s history for free, not entirely. There are a few VIN decoders out there that will give you access to basic information about a car, based on its VIN. In the US, you can also visit the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) website and the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free VINCheck site to get some info about a car’s past. But, if you want a comprehensive vehicle history check, you’ll have to pay a fee.

What is the best vehicle history report site?

Top industry leaders include companies such as Carfax, carVertical, and AutoCheck.

Can you see the accident history in car history reports?

If the accidents were declared, then yes. Vehicle history reports gather their data from different sources such as law enforcement agencies and insurance companies. Most accidents get declared and end up in said databases, so you’ll be able to see information regarding them.

How to read vehicle history reports?

Modern vehicle history reports are very intuitive and easy to understand. They use plain, simple English and they have visual cues to help you understand the data. Reading a history report isn’t something you should worry about – you’ll likely be able to do it, even if you know close to nothing about cars.

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