by Andrew Rohrlich

Why It’s Important to Check A Vehicle History Report Before Buying A Car Privately

A vehicle’s history can significantly impact its value. A seller may tell you a car is in a certain condition, but researching its history may reveal things that, whether intentionally or out of ignorance, the seller hasn’t told you. Some important things to look up in a vehicle’s history include accident reports, ownership, and other damage or repairs.

Reveals Accident History

A vehicle history report will include any accidents the car was involved in that were recorded by the police or insurance companies. This can tell you if there are possible repair records you should look for based on the details of the accident and what kinds of damage were listed. A car that has undergone major repairs after an accident may not be as reliable as one with original factory parts. Sometimes, repair shops or customers will use inferior parts to make the repairs cheaper.  So if you find out repairs have been made, confirm what parts were replaced and research their quality. Even if this doesn’t deter you from buying the car, you may be able to negotiate a lower price.

Cars with substantial past damage, including accident repairs, flood damage, or salvage history, may also be more difficult or expensive to insure. Insurance companies may see a history of repairs, accidents, or damage and determine that the car is a more significant risk than one with less history. Since insurance companies have access to these records, it’s important for you to also be informed so you don’t get any nasty surprises when seeking quotes.

Confirms Ownership History

When buying a car, it’s important to be sure that the person you’re purchasing it from is actually the owner. A vehicle history check will include current and past ownership records to help you verify the current seller. If you’re able to track down previous owners, they may also be able to verify the history of the vehicle and confirm that the current seller is telling the truth about its condition and current parts. They also may be able to fill in gaps not included in the official vehicle history, such as repairs or maintenance they completed themselves instead of through a registered mechanic or accidents that were resolved without involving authorities.

A vehicle having numerous previous owners may also be a red flag, as it indicates that it is being passed on after little use. This may reveal chronic problems causing people to trade the car for something more reliable as soon as possible.

Don’t Forget About Theft or Salvage Records

When conducting the history check, make sure to look for records of theft or salvage history. If a car has been reported as stolen but not recovered, the person attempting to sell it to you may be the thief and you could get in real trouble for completing the sale. A car listed as a salvage vehicle is also an indicator that the car was determined to be “totaled” at some point in its history, making it likely to have significant problems. This may also cause problems when attempting to insure it, as insurance companies don’t often cover cars that were determined a “loss” and salvaged. Looking into a title history can also tell you if a vehicle was formerly used as a rental or police vehicle, which may indicate how well the car was cared for in the past.

Helps in Determining the Value of a Car To Avoid a Scam

Knowing a vehicle’s history can help you determine its true value. A seller may try to tell you it’s worth a certain amount, but the factors found in a vehicle history report can substantially alter the price. Things like major repair records, accident history, or salvage or theft reports may reduce the value of the car or deter you from buying it at all.

A seller’s goal is to make as much money as possible, and many will simply cover up damage or make cheap repairs to get the car out of their driveway.  But cheap fixes often lead to the most expensive repairs or cars that soon can’t be driven at all. Knowing the history of a prospective vehicle can keep you from these types of critical problems.

How to Research the Vehicle History of a Car Before a Private Sale

Requesting a vehicle history is a super easy process that can really help inform your purchase. Here’s how to check vehicle history before you buy.

Request the Vehicle Identification Number From Private Seller

Every car comes with a unique identification number to differentiate it from other vehicles. This vehicle identification number operates like a fingerprint, allowing you to trace its complete history, including repairs, accidents, ownership records, and other necessary information to verify its condition. You should be able to request this number from the seller. If they’re unwilling to give it to you, that’s a red flag indicating they may have been dishonest about something. Be persistent and don’t buy a car without it.

Perform A VIN Check With a Trustworthy Source

You can use the VIN to learn about the history of the car. There are a number of services that track vehicle identification numbers and can give you a detailed report of any accidents that the car has been involved in. This report also covers the damage incurred, what repairs were made in professional shops, and who any previous owners may have been. You can also verify that the person selling you the car is the current owner so you don’t get taken in by scammers advertising cars they can’t or won’t actually sell.

This article was written by Andrew Rohrlich. As a brand and product marketing expert, Andrew Rohrlich has crafted products, experiences and communications for household names like Gap and for multiple automotive technology businesses. For nearly a decade Andrew has studied automotive retail in depth from a customer point of view and aggregated the industry’s best research, thought leadership and know how to provide credible and important information to auto shoppers and sellers.

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