FAQ on Car Checks
What is a Vehicle History Report?
A vehicle history report is the quickest and easiest way to research the history of a car. It gathers all of a vehicle's insurance and DMV records into one place. At a glance, you can tell if there are major accidents, odometer problems, flood damage issues or if the car is a lemon.
With this info in hand, you can make an informed purchase decision AND negotiate the best price.
Several companies gather the data and sell these reports online: AutoCheck and AutoCheck. On all three sites, you look up a vehicle with its unique 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) and the site tells you how many history items it has for that specific car or truck. Click here for a comparison chart of the three major reports.
A vehicle history report will tell you one of two things about the car's history:
A VIN (short for "Vehicle Identification Number") is a seventeen-digit code that uniquely identifies a vehicle. Every car, truck, motorcycle, trailer, etc. that is built is assigned a VIN and DMVs and insurance companies use the VIN to keep track of which vehicle is which.
The VIN encodes specific information about a vehicle, including country of manufacture, manufacturer, model, body style and even engine and other information. This was standardized in the early '80s and all major manufacturers follow the standard. Here's the VIN for a typical car: 2YTEL56778KP099543. Here's what AutoCheck can tell about the car just by decoding the info in the VIN: 1994 Ford Taurus, 4 Dr Sedan.
If you're interested in how VINs work, check out an online VIN decoder. It shows you where the different info is encoded.
A lot of used car websites include a VIN in their for-sale listings. When you're shopping online, find the VIN and cut and paste it into the VIN form. Get the unlimited version of the report so you can screen as many VINs as you need to.
If there's no VIN listed in the newspaper or website ad, contact the seller and ask for it before you go see the car. You could save yourself a lot of time by avoiding problem vehicles... and you won't get tempted by a smooth pitch before you have all the info.
You can also get the VIN from the car itself. A VIN is visible on the lower right hand (driver's side) corner of the dash when looking through the front windshield. The VIN is also printed on registrations, titles and proof of insurance cards.
VINs were standardized in the early '80s to all be 17 digits long and to use certain codes to indicate make, model, year and other information about the car. Manufacturers were using other types of IDs before that, but the major history databases only include the standardized VINs from 1981-on. You probably won't find many records for most cars older than the late eighties, but you should run the VIN check anyway.
It is illegal to tamper with an odometer to change its reading: usually to reduce the number of miles on the car. Unscrupulous dealers have been known to "rollback" an odometer to make a used car more attractive to a buyer. Here's an example on AutoCheck of a car that had it's odometer rolled-back before being resold to an unsuspecting buyer.
Buying a vehicle history report can protect you from odometer fraud. With the data in-hand, it's obvious if the mileage suddenly goes down between registrations or annual emissions tests. You can also protect yourself from odometer fraud by having a mechanic inspect the car: they will get a sense of how much wear-and-tear there is on the vehicle, which is more important than raw miles in determining the car's value.
Basically, a lemon is a car that had so many mechanical problems that the manufacturer bought it back. States have their own lemon laws, so the exact circumstances vary. Since lemon laws can be complicated and vary state to state, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer in your area.
"Free" is always good. And you definitely want to know if a car is a lemon before you buy. But here's the scoop: there are actually very few cars that are "certified lemons." The likelihood that you're about to buy one is really small. In fact, it's much more likely that the car has another kind of problem or potential problem.
So don't be fooled by the report: just because the car passes the "lemon check" doesn't mean it doesn't have other problems. Get an unlimited account for $20 bucks and run a full report on all the cars you're looking at to find ANY problems they might have.
If you're going to be looking at a lot of cars, the multiple report option is the way to go. AutoCheck®'s "unlimited reports" option is MUCH easier to use than the other reports since it lets you keep a running list of vehicles so you can easily get back to the reports later.
If you see a potential trouble area in the report, don't immediately assume the car is not worth buying. If the problem is not serious, you might want to use the information to negotiate a better price on the car. If you're buying from a private seller, you could ask them to explain anything unusual in the report. There may be a reasonable explanation.
At the very least, you should check out reviews on the model you're considering and used car pricing guides to find out what the market price of the car is. AutoCheck® has a lot of this information available in their used auto reviews.
As with any major decision, the more research you do before you make up your mind, the more likely you will be satisfied with your decision.
UNLIMITED vehicle history reports! Before you take the keys of your
next vehicle, check the facts and shop with confidence.
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