March 18

Vehicle History Report – What You Need To Know


These days, when you want to buy a car, there’s a wealth of information available at your fingertips. Plenty of places to buy a car, and plenty of cars to buy. Getting a used vehicle can be extremely frustrating and confusing. So how are you to decide? One sure way to trim down your options is by obtaining a vehicle history report (VHR). This article details what you need to know about the VHR.

We’ll inform you about the most essential parts of a VHR, what they mean, and red flags to look out for when buying.  Researching a car’s background allows you to learn everything you can about a prospective vehicle. Please remember that state laws for VHRs vary widely. If you are unsure or would like more specific information, contact your state DMV.

Vehicle Registration Records

The VHR is a tool for buyers to positively identify a vehicle and accurately describe its condition. Below is a quick run-down of the information that you’ll need to verify first. The first two can be found on the vehicle registration record. The others will require a bit more digging.

1. Make and Model

This is the easiest step. Does the car you’re looking at match the details on the VHR? It may seem obvious, but VHR-tampering can occur at the most basic level if you don’t pay attention. Make sure to check for the car’s year, engine size, and color. Popular models will have a lot of used vehicles on the market, so be sure the seller hasn’t re-used a VHR from a different vehicle.

2. Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

Step two is the most foolproof way to check the car’s identity. Each vehicle has a unique VIN, so by checking it, you can be absolutely sure that what is on the report will correspond to the vehicle you are examining.

3. Odometer

The miles on the odometer may not exactly match the report. However the actual mileage should fall within the same range and certainly not be lower than recorded. Some states may not require mileage to be reported if the car is too old. Find out what’s required in your area by checking with your local DMV.

4. Number of Previous Owners

This is an important factor to note. If the car has a long string of owners for short periods of time, chronic malfunctions may have been the cause. Also, check for missing periods of time when possession was unclear. This may indicate illegal activity or misuse.

Other Car Background Information

Now that we’ve gone over some of the basics, let’s dive a little deeper. A proper VHR should include a full report of the major events occurring within a car’s lifespan. Here are the biggest points to look for:

1. Title Status

The title status of a vehicle will offer many good clues. Look out for words like “loan,” “lien,” “lease,” or “correction.” By themselves, these terms aren’t necessarily bad. Lots of people lease cars, or the DMV may have made a mistake that needed a correction. Still, these words are important to consider within the context of the entire VHR.

2. Registration

This step pertains to the yearly registration tags for the vehicle’s license plate. Has the car gone years without registration? If so, this may indicate that the vehicle was out of commission, either from an accident or was stolen and used illegally. All of these could have a huge impact on the car’s condition. Even without damage, it may be difficult to find financing or insurance for stolen vehicles or those used illegally. Therefore, finding out these factors before purchasing is extremely important. 


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3. Emission Inspection

The law mandates that all vehicles pass an emission test. You should be wary of any car that has not passed this required inspection. Beware, any car that has failed this test is illegal to drive and could come with costly repairs needed. If the car has failed emissions in the past but has passed more recently, it should be fine. However, if the car recently failed inspection, you may want to look elsewhere for your next vehicle.

What If There Aren’t Any Records?

However rare this may be, some people find themselves interested in a vehicle that has no records. As we previously discussed, in this scenario searching elsewhere for a vehicle is your best bet. That is, if what you want is a brand new ride. Driving around in a car without a proper registered vehicle is illegal and will only bring you trouble. 

On the other hand, if you are acquiring vehicles to use for spare parts or other means, then going through with the purchase can be okay. Know what you want, and be sure the car matches that criteria.

If you find a car that comes with missing information, such as a title, but has other important details, then going through with the purchase is still feasible.

Vehicle Service History

So, you’ve verified the vehicle on the report. What’s listed is the same one sitting in front of you. So far so good. Everything looks like it checks out, but you’re not quite done . Not yet. There are some keywords that you should look out for that may indicate the vehicle is in less-than-optimal condition.

1. Auction Listing

Auctions are a great way to find vehicles for a bargain. There are many legitimate reasons why a vehicle may be up for sale. For example, someone could be looking to get rid of personal cars or fleet vehicles. Sometimes auction vehicles need repairs. You should also remember to check when the vehicle was last inspected and/or when inspection is due. It’s always a good idea to ask if you can have your own trusted professional inspect the vehicle.

2. Rental

This term applies to vehicles that were part of a rental fleet, not a car that has been leased. The condition of these cars may vary greatly. Some rental services will try and wait as long as possible to have a car serviced or repaired to save money. Of course this can have a detrimental effect on the vehicle.

3. Repossession

The condition of the car may be good, but this red flag is a financial one. A vehicle may be unaffordable for many reasons, such as high gas prices or insurance premiums. Always double check to be sure you can afford the vehicle. If the previous owner couldn’t afford regular payments, he or she may not have had the funds for routine maintenance or repairs, either. Keep that in mind!

4. Salvage Title

When a car has a salvage title, you need to pay special attention to the details. It may be an opportunity to save some money, but it may also come with several drawbacks. The term “salvage title” has many determining factors which vary from state to state. 

A salvage title vehicle may have extensive damage or a questionable history due to illegal use or being stolen. It might just be an older car with a ding in the fender. Discovering exactly why a car has a salvage title can save you a lot of money – either by buying the car affordably or by avoiding it altogether. 

5. Accidents

Many vehicles have been in accidents, and the older the vehicle, the greater the chance. While minor accidents are understandable, you should be wary of a vehicle with any major repair or a long history of repairs. It’s especially important that all repairs were performed by a professional. Home repairs or repairs done cheaply to maximize resale profit could put you at risk for malfunction or injury.

6. Water, Storm, or Fire Damage

These forms of damage are dangerous particularly because they are hard to assess. The damage may seem largely cosmetic, but the effects could be much worse in the long-term. You may not even realize there is a problem until it’s too late. It’s especially important that you have the electrical systems checked.

Why Is Service History Important?

Researching the background on any vehicle you want is vital. By taking all of the aforementioned steps, you can secure any and all information to help inform your financial decision. Not every vehicle is worth your attention or money.

The biggest thing you want to know is what bad things have happened in the car’s history. When cars are new, the lack of mileage and usage typically means the car will be free of issues. Of course, there is always the chance of a recall. However, once people start owning vehicles, this produces wear and tear on the vehicle. All machines break down. The less your vehicle breaks down, the more money you keep in your pocket, and less headache you have to endure while seeking repairs.

Finding out the vehicle’s history requires time, effort, and all the right questions. Nonetheless, with this guide you are well on your way to owning your next vehicle, and one that is bound to bring you more convenience than headache.

To see all these points in action, check out sample VHRs from Carfax and AutoCheck.

Now that you’re a pro at understanding VHRs, the process of buying a used vehicle should be much more clear. By checking the most important pieces of the report, you’ll be able to recognize potential drawbacks and make an informed decision that will keep your family safe on the road.


AutoCheck, buying used cars, Carfax, salvage title, Vehicle History Report, VHR, VIN

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