Auto Tips and Guides

Vehicle History Report Red Flags: Knowing What to Look For and When to Walk Away

If you’re in the market for a used car, chances are you’ve heard that you should request a vehicle history report on any vehicle you’re considering. Designed to prevent you from purchasing a car with more problems than advertised, a vehicle history report contains information about the car’s ownership and accident history, repair history and other information to let you know whether you’re getting a reliable car or not.

The trouble is, depending on where you get the VHR from, the information contained could be extremely detailed or just a general summary of the car’s history. And if you don’t know how to read and interpret the report, you could end up making a costly mistake.

How to Read a Vehicle History Report

Vehicle history reports combine information from the motor vehicle department, police stations and other sources like car dealerships to present an overview of a vehicle’s history. When you read the report, keep an eye out for the following red flags – if any of these appear on the report, you might want to keep looking.

Mismatched Descriptions

You might think you’re looking at a blue Honda Accord LX, but if the VHR shows that it’s a Honda Accord DX, you could be dealing with a fraudulent vehicle. Some car thieves create duplicate or cloned VIN numbers from legally owned cars to disguise stolen cars. Carefully read the vehicle description on the VHR and confirm that it matches the car you’re considering. If there’s a discrepancy, walk away.

Multiple Owners

These days, most cars have several owners before they are put out to pasture. One or two owners isn’t necessarily a problem, but if the VHR shows more than that, chances are the vehicle hasn’t been as well cared for as it should be. Be on the lookout for rental car or taxi companies listed as previous owners as well. Rental cars and taxis are notorious for being abused, and while the price on the car might be great, it’s probably been pushed to the limit more than once. In addition, if a car has changed hands multiple times, there might be a problem.

Car-Damaging Locations

Thanks to salt, water, high heat or sea air, some parts of the country are more damaging to vehicles than others. For example, a car that was owned and driven in New England is far more likely to have rust damage, thanks to corrosive road salt, than a vehicle driven on the perpetually sunny streets of southern California. Sometimes the damage isn’t immediately apparent, but could become a problem down the road. If the VHR shows that the car has been located somewhere with notoriously rough conditions, proceed with caution.

Incomplete Information

Many VHRs include information from auto body repair shops or car dealerships about the repair work done to the car. If the VHR indicates that body repair work was done on the car, cross-reference that listing with reported accidents. If there is significant bodywork but no reported accident, there may be an unreported collision in the vehicle’s history. This means that there could be damage that was not fixed, and the car might not be safe or roadworthy.

Insurance Loss/Salvaged/Rebuilt Vehicle

If a car is listed as an insurance loss, that means it was “totaled.” A car could be totaled if it was stolen and then recovered or heavily damaged in an accident. In either case, if you see that term, walk away. Even worse is a vehicle that has been salvaged or rebuilt. Most of these cars have been rebuilt after a serious accident – or still need to be rebuilt – and are both dangerous and expensive. Simple auto collisions are also cause for concern. If a car has been in a minor fender-bender and been repaired, it’s probably OK, but avoid any vehicle with a history of major accidents.

Storm Registration

When a storm comes in and brings massive floodwaters with it, thousands of vehicles often end up submerged in water. In many cases, the owners make insurance claims and get rid of these vehicles – which are later resold to unsuspecting buyers. If storm registration or water damage shows up on the VHR, keep looking, since water can severely damage the electrical components of the car. It might not be a problem now, but chances are it will be in the future.

Failed Emissions Inspections

Vehicles that fail emissions inspections cannot be driven on the road and often cost big bucks to fix. If the car has failed emissions inspections in the past but has passed subsequent inspections, it might be OK, but avoid cars with recent failures.

Whenever you’re buying a used car, whether from a dealership or an individual, always request a vehicle history report. If you know what to look for, taking the time to examine the vehicle’s history can save you money and headaches down the road.

This post was written and provided by Tommy Riley.  Tommy has been in the car business for several years.  He is also a freelance writer for car insurance Ireland.

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