Many used car dealerships promote vehicles with a “clean Carfax” or a “clean vehicle history report”. While this is a positive sign, it can be helpful to understand exactly what that means. There are many components to vehicle history reports, and depending on what you want to know, you may want a specific type of report. Here is the lowdown on what you’ll find in a vehicle history report, which one may be right for you, and how to read the information.
Do I Need a Vehicle History Report?
You may ask yourself, do I need a vehicle history report? The simples answer is if you are buying a used car, then a vehicle history report can be a very helpful tool. It can provide you with some extra peace of mind, and also give you the room to negotiate price or decide if you’re willing to take a car even if it has had something happen in the past. In other words, it gives you the ability to make an informed decision about a used vehicle you’re interested in purchasing.
What Types of Vehicle History Reports are There?
A lot of people have the slogan, “Show Me the Carfax” running through their head. However, Carfax is only one of your options for vehicle history reports. Here are some you can choose from, and what information they’ll provide:
Most people have heard about Carfax. It’s probably the most recognized vehicle history report out there. Carfax has a few price points available. They are:
- $39.99: 1 report
- $59.99: 5 reports
- $69.99: Unlimited reports
All of the reports listed above are good for 60 days. If you are car shopping and are interested in multiple cars, it can be more cost effective to get a package. However, some dealerships will automatically provide a Carfax report. With each report, you’ll get history on:
- Major Accident
- Mileage Rollback
- Multiple Owners
- Structural Damage
- Vehicle Service History
- Lease, Personal, Taxi or Police Use
- Total Loss
- Flood Damage
- Airbag Deployment
- Mileage Rollover
- Hail Damage
- Branded a Lemon
- Last Reported Mileage
- State Owned
- Length of Ownership
- Estimated Miles Driven Per Year
- Not Actual Mileage
- Recall Information
- Warranty Information
- Service, Inspection, and Registration History
VIN Check and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS)
The DMV offers the VIN Check and NMVTIS to consumers. They are ways to check up on the history of vehicles as well. Some of the information you’ll get with these histories are past ownership, odometer readings, liens, title and accident history and lemon determination. While there is a free VINCheck through government-run public services, it is pretty basic. However, the DMV also has the option for a more detailed VIN Check report that goes for around $40. Note that the DMV is partnered with Carfax, so their vehicle history report is “powered by Carfax”.
NMVTIS is more hit and miss. It was set up to prevent consumers from fraud, stolen cars and unsafe vehicles. It will simply connect you with services that do VIN lookups. If you have a limited budget, NMVTIS is far better than not looking into a vehicle at all. Prices range between $0-10, but the information isn't as comprehensive.
AutoCheck is run by Experian, one of the big consumer credit corporations. AutoCheck proves itself a valid option as it offers features that neither Carfax nor the NMVTIS have. Pricewise, AutoCheck is probably your best bet for a full report, especially when doing multiple checks. The other standout feature is its ability to let you compare similar vehicles you’re interested in.
Which Vehicle History Report is Best for Me?
Depending on your budget and informational needs, any of these reports are better than nothing. For more thorough reporting, Carfax and AutoCheck are going to be better, and if you are going to need multiple reports, AutoCheck is going to be your most cost-effective option. However, the best way to determine the report best for your needs is to read over the websites.
A vehicle history report is there to protect consumers, and the information on it is provided to help you understand if a vehicle has risks, or if its value may not be as high due to prior incidents. Read the information carefully, and make your decision to purchase a used car based on all the facts. That means make sure you take other preventative measures as well, like a mechanical check and by looking at dealer reputation. That way, you'll ensure that you're getting the best used car for you.