What is a Vehicle History Report?
If you're buying a used car, you should know what a vehicle history report is, and have one for any car or truck you're seriously considering purchasing. A vehicle history report can prevent you from making a disastrous purchase in the most extreme case, and at least let you purchase a vehicle fully aware of what oddities lurk in its past.
When you think of the number of cars flooded in Hurricanes Irma, Harvey, Sandy, Irene, and others, you have to wonder where all of those cars went after they were totaled by insurance companies. What if a car has been in an accident and determined to be Salvaged, but was repaired and is still circulating? How would you identify it? A vehicle history report can answer these questions for you.
A vehicle history report includes records from each time the title of the vehicle is transferred, or when an insurance company or salvage yard takes action on a vehicle. It also typically includes information about whether the vehicle has been reported as stolen. The report can also flag any suspicious mileage discrepancies, which may indicate the odometer has been tampered with. Some reports may also show an approximate value for the vehicle. It may also indicate if the car was a rental car or taxi.
What Does a Vehicle History Report Cost?
There is some expense in getting a vehicle history report. It is a minor expense in relation to the cost of purchasing the vehicle, and then finding out that the car has issues that can't be overcome. Think of it as a small insurance policy you're taking out to cover the expense of being completely out of the purchase price plus the cost of any failed repair attempts you'll make after purchasing it. The cost of a vehicle history report is well worthwhile.
If you're shopping for a used car from a dealership, the dealer will have a bulk account with a vehicle history report supplier. They should provide you with a report free of charge at your request. If they balk or refuse, be suspicious and definitely get your own. It's very possible there's something in the vehicle's history they don't want you to see. Even if not, the fact that they won't provide this service, which costs them almost nothing, is probably an indicator this isn't the type of dealer you want to be working with, especially if the car has issues after you purchase it.
If you're purchasing from a private party, it's very unlikely that they'll have a report for the vehicle. You'll have to purchase it yourself. Many report providers provide lower pricing for multiple reports than for a single report. If you're looking at a couple cars or more, pay for a package of reports and check each vehicle on your short-list. It's less expensive that way. Bundles typically range from 2 to 5 reports. Single reports can range from $10 to $40, depending on the amount of information in the report and the popularity of the provider. Expect about 25-30% off for multiple reports.
What's In a Vehicle History Report?
There are a variety of reports available, but a lot of the underlying data comes from the same few sources. Different report providers present the information in a different formats, but the facts are the same. So what's the difference between a report that costs under $10 and a report costing $40? Marketing. That's pretty much it.
All states are required by Federal law to report vehicle title events to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, or NMVTIS. States, insurance carriers, and salvage yards are required to report "title brand" events such as Salvage, Flood, or Total losses. According to NMVTIS, “NMVTIS is the only vehicle history database in the nation to which all states, insurance carriers, and junk and salvage yards are required by federal law to report. Federal law also requires all insurance companies and all junk and salvage yards in the United States to report their salvage and total loss vehicles to NMVTIS. Because of this, NMVTIS can help car buyers detect fraud and know if a car has been totaled or determined to be salvage or junk, before they buy a car.” When you get a vehicle history report, make sure the provider is an approved NMVTIS vedor. Their logo looks like this:
We've shopped around the approved NMVTIS vendors and recommend vehicle history reports from ClearVIN. They draw their data from the same credible sources as other providers, and provide the reports at a much lower cost to you than other providers. We felt strongly enough about them being the right provider that we established an affiliate relationship with them. There's a sample report on their website you can look at. They are an NMVTIS approved vendor, and use NADA as a source for autction history and vehicle value. That's the same information you'll find in vehicle history reports costing four times the price. Again, get the 3 or 5 report bundle to save money, assuming you'll be considering more than one car.
A vehicle history report may include:
- The number of owner's a vehicle has had – If it has a lot of owners for short time periods, you might wonder why none of them kept it. It may also indicate If any of the owners were corporate instead of personal, which likely indicates tougher usage.
- Odometer readings at various stages in the vehicle's history – you can see the rate at which miles were driven, and any suspicious events when a more recent reading is lower than an earlier reading.
- Accidents reported – If an insurance company was involved, it will be on the title record. Some repairs are well done and the accident isn't really a concern. Other times, the repairs are not well done and problems will persist.
- Salvage, flood, total loss, other “title brands” - If the car has had significant events like these, they'll be indicated in the report. Beware of these cars. Check with your insurance company before buying, as they will have different policies for these vehicles.
- State inspections will be listed with dates and mileage
- When the vehicle has been offered for sale, if at a dealership
- Estimated value of the vehicle
Absolutely get a vehicle history report for a vehicle you are considering purchasing. All you need to get the report is the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN.
If your inspection and test drive went well, and the vehicle history report looks good, you're almost there. The next step is to check for vehicle recalls by make and model or using the VIN.