Old cars don’t die, they just get resold. Before you buy a used car, whether from a dealer or private seller, you’ll want to know as much about it as you can. Even without anyone trying to deceive you, the vehicle you’re considering may have hidden problems that go undetected during a simple visual inspection or even a short test drive.
A vehicle history report prepared by a third party is one way to help know what you’re getting into. The most well-known servicers for vehicle history reports are CarFax and AutoCheck. You’ll pay a fee for one of these reports, though they’re often provided free as a courtesy by sellers. But they’re well worth the cash to ensure you’re getting a solid car. Plus, if you’re worried a vehicle’s been stolen, you can use the free National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck database to ensure it hasn’t been stolen or carries a salvage title.
Here are some things to look for — or look out for — when you get a report on a vehicle. While these aren’t necessarily reasons to avoid buying a car, be sure to ask the seller about information you see on the vehicle history report before you make a decision:
The more driveways a car has been in, the less likely it’s been lovingly cared for all its life. Not everyone is equally responsible about car care as you might be. Rental cars and former taxis, for example, will often have undergone a lot of abuse but also can be priced considerably lower.
Cars that are regularly serviced generally last longer and are worth more as a result. Knowing where previous owners took the vehicle for service helps if you have questions about repairs or maintenance records.
Name and description
Be sure the car in the report is the same as the car you’re looking at. Carefully reviewing the vehicle description is one way to avoid various types of vehicle fraud, like VIN cloning. A cloned vehicle involves using a vehicle identification number (VIN) from another registered vehicle to mask the identity of a similar make/model stolen car. Vehicle history reports can include details about the vehicle color and engine type, so you can make sure you’re evaluating the right car.
Keep an eye out for records of body work or inspections that might indicate a prior unreported incident.