The only aspect of shopping for a used car that gets stressed as much as having a professional mechanic familiar with the make and model of the automobile you're considering is the acquisition of a vehicle history report (VHR). Popularized in culture by commercials for companies like Carfax and AutoCheck, a vehicle history report can tell you if the odometer reading is correct, whether the car has ever been in a major accident, or if the title is clean.
Ordering a VHR is like running a background check on the car you're considering. And since you're about to trust that auto with all of your transportation needs; it's a very good idea to do so.
There are a number of red flags the VHR can potentially raise and recognizing them will help ensure you get the best car available for your needs. Our VHR partner is AutoCheck'”however, if you prefer Carfax, you will find similarities in both companies' reports, although AutoCheck's tend to be more detailed.
At the top of the report, you'll find the summary section, listing the automobile's vehicle identification number (VIN), along with the model year, make, and model. The vehicle's class is listed, along with the engine that should be fitted. The summary section also tells you where the car was assembled, its age, the number of owners the car has had, and the odometer reading the last time its title changed hands.
In this section, you'll want to make sure the car you're looking at matches everything listed (starting with the VIN) to be sure the report you're studying is, in fact, on the car you're considering. Pay particular attention to the number of owners, as the higher the number, the more likely the maintenance history (if included) is less than accurate. Additionally, if the car has had a number of owners over a period of a few years, chances are the car is changing hands regularly because of a hidden problem.
One particular advantage of the AutoCheck report is the AutoCheck Score'”a cumulative aggregation of all the factors of the particular car; it also grades the car in the report against others of a similar model year and style. This gives you the ability to see how the car you're considering ranks against the average car like it.
When examining the Full Vehicle History section of the report, you'll learn when the auto was built, first transported to a dealer for sale, titled, and had its registration renewed. Odometer readings are also typically recorded by a DMV when title is transferred, additionally the history section will document Full Vehicle History.
One of the things you'll want to watch out for in this section is a report the car has been sold at auction. While this isn't always a negative, it could indicate some maintenance has been neglected. An indication the car has been a rental or part of a fleet might be off putting but it is important to remember most rental and fleet vehicles get regular maintenance at the manufacturer's prescribed intervals. If a repossession is noted, it could mean the car suffered some neglect. After all, if the owner couldn't make the payments, they probably couldn't afford to maintain it either.
Other problematic indications include an Insurance Loss notation; this basically means some insurance company declared the car a total loss. This doesn't always mean a catastrophic accident, it could also mean the car has been stolen or used in the commission of a crime. Which, if you don't have any Karma issues, might not be such a bad thing.
If the car has been in a catastrophic accident, declared a total loss, and subsequently repaired, you will see a Salvage Title notation. These cars are usually offered at amazingly low prices and justifiably so. We recommend passing on them, but let your conscience be your guide. In fact, if there's an indication the car has been in any accident, but wasn't totaled, we still recommend passing on it. Crashes often result in making a car the equivalent of a time bomb. Plus, there are just too many good unmolested cars out there.
The emissions inspection report can be problematic if the car ever failed to pass, as it can be an indication of some rather costly mechanical problems. And finally, if you ever see storm or water damage in a car's history, turn your attention to another automobile.