Is a Vehicle History Report Worth the Money?

by Jim Thompson | Last Updated: January 11, 2021

What You Can Learn

Vehicle history reports provide the buyers with information to help assist in the purchase decision. They’re an excellent value and an easy way to determine if the car is a value or not. For a relatively small investment on your part, you will have access to the following data about the vehicle you are potentially buying.

True Mileage? – A history report will make sure you know the accurate mileage, or will help you pick out when someone is tampering with the odometer.

Major Repairs? – Knowing about major repairs lets you know what future issues you might encounter and what new parts to look for.

Has It Been Totaled? – When a vehicle is totaled, it means that it has sustained a great deal of damage, sometimes structural and at others purely cosmetic. Seeing this on the report gives you something to investigate and a potential bargaining chip if you do decide to buy.

Who Had it Before? – Ownership history – It’s helpful to see how many people have owned a vehicle in the past. Usually, vehicles with a lower number of owners are better quality.

Is It a Lemon? –  History reports clearly let you know if a vehicle has been marked as a lemon or not.

Any Current Warranties? – If the vehicle has existing warranties that you could take advantage of, you’ll know about them in the report and can factor that into your purchasing decision.

Getting a Report

There are many places to obtain a vehicle history report. The main two providers are CarFax and AutoCheck. There is a fee involved in getting one, but it is quite reasonable. In some instances, you will be able to get the owner to pay for the report, but really, if you are planning on making the purchase, it’s a small investment to make. All you will need for the report to be generated is the VIN number of the vehicle.

What to Watch for

There are certain bad signs that you should look out for on a used car vehicle report. IF you see any of these things, you should immediately reconsider purchasing the vehicle.

Salvage – If a vehicle carries a salvage title, it has sustained substantial damage sometime in the past. It is possible to repair a car to the point that it can have the salvage title removed, but it doesn’t mean that the car will be free of potentially expensive problems in the future. Whether the car carries a salvage title now or has had one in the past, the vehicle history report will indicate it. Even if the car has no current issues, it will usually be more expensive to insure, making it a bad option overall.

Emissions failure – In some states, an emissions test is required to pass inspection, and a successful inspection is required for the vehicle to be registered. Often, repairs to fix an emissions problem can be quite costly, an important consideration as you consider the purchase.

Flood damage – If you see flood damage anywhere on the report, rule out the vehicle immediately. It’s not worth the trouble and you should move on to something else, no matter how good of a deal it is.

Irregular maintenance – Look out for records that point to improper maintenance. A vehicle that isn’t maintained properly isn’t likely to be in good condition when you buy it.

Stolen vehicle – If the report indicates that the car was ever stolen, steer clear of the vehicle. Auto thieves are not necessarily known for taking the best care of the cars they steal.

Irregular odometer readings – Any report that shows irregularities in odometer readings is an indication that the car has been tampered with fraudulently and should be removed from your list of potentials.

A vehicle history report is the best way to acquire the information required to make a wise buying decision. Just a few dollars spent now may save you a lot more dollars down the road.