How Can I Get a Vehicle History Report?

Buying a used car can be a great option for anyone who needs a vehicle but does not want the extra expense of a brand new one. However, purchasing a used vehicle comes with a degree of uncertainty. It is essential for anyone shopping for a pre-owned vehicle to know how to secure a vehicle history report before committing to a purchase.

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What Is a Vehicle History Report?

A vehicle history report is exactly that; a full report of the vehicle’s history, including ownership, repairs, servicing, and accident history. Having access to a vehicle history report allows a car buyer to make a more informed decision about the purchase. For example, an insurance company may demand a higher premium for insuring a car that has been through multiple accidents.

There are generally two types of vehicle history reports one can secure: a free one through the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), or a paid report through a third-party service. An NICB report will check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to determine if the vehicle has ever had a salvage title attached to it or been totaled in an insurance claim.

Third-party services, like Carfax, offer more detailed reports for a small fee. These detailed reports include dates of service, nature of prior service, accident history, ownership record, and more. Some of these services also offer scoring based on criteria beyond vehicle history, such as resale value and gas mileage. A low-scoring car likely has a spotty VIN record and may not resell for very much, whereas higher-scoring cars likely have cleaner VIN records and will retain their value longer.

Potential Dangers of Failing to Secure a Vehicle History Report

Depending on where you purchase a used vehicle, you may face significant obstacles if you discover an issue after purchase. Many used car sales contracts include “as-is” clauses that stipulate the buyer agrees to purchase the car in its current condition. Some used car sellers and dealerships offer some sort of maintenance perks with pre-owned vehicle purchases, but these generally only extend to routine maintenance like inspections and oil changes and remain valid for a few years at most.

Any time a vehicle experiences an accident, the structural integrity of the vehicle is compromised. Even if the vehicle undergoes extensive repairs and looks new again eventually, there is always a possibility that a previous accident left part of the vehicle weakened in such a way that a second accident causes catastrophic damage.

Why Secure a Vehicle History Report?

Imagine a person purchasing a seemingly great used vehicle for $3,000 and then getting into a serious car accident. An investigation determines the vehicle had a structural weakness from a previous accident. However, the buyer had no knowledge of the vehicle’s accident history because he or she neglected to secure a vehicle history report before purchasing the vehicle. The repair cost is $5,000, leaving the driver either personally responsible for the repairs insurance will not cover or resulting in a total loss of the original $3,000 investment.

Vehicle history reports also help prevent crime and fraud. A fraudulent used car seller could be altering the VINs on the cars in stock and selling dangerous vehicles after only superficially repairing them. A VIN report can also ensure the vehicle’s odometer is accurate and no one has tampered with it, potentially impacting insurance premium rates.

Ultimately, it is always best to secure a vehicle history report before purchasing any used vehicle. While a free NICB report can identify major issues relatively easily at no expense, paying for a more detailed report from a third party like Carfax is usually the best option to ensure a safe purchase.