When you go to purchase a used vehicle, you are certainly taking a risk. Preowned vehicles may have been in collisions, they may have been salvaged, they may have more miles on them than advertised, and more. There are many factors that need to be taken into account when purchasing any sort of secondhand vehicle.
Buying anything else secondhand may not be a huge deal, especially if you didn’t spend much. However, with a vehicle, things are a little different. You will need accurate intel to ensure that a vehicle is safe and roadworthy, that it is in good working condition, and that there are no strings attached.
For this reason, whenever you purchase a used vehicle, you first want to check its history; you don’t want to find out that the good deal you got was not quite as good as first thought.
There are many things which a simple vehicle history check can tell you. In the following sections, we will discuss all the information you can gather from a simple, quick, and free vehicle history check.
What a Vehicle History Check Tells You
There are many major problems that a used vehicle can have. The following are all things that you will learn about your vehicle through a vehicle history report.
Structural and Frame Damage
If at all possible, purchasing a used car which has suffered from structural damage is best avoided. This is something which a vehicle history report can inform you of.
You will learn if the vehicle has suffered any major structural damage which may affect the overall integrity and safety of the vehicle. Not only will you find out about structural damage, you will also be informed if there were any repairs or salvages made to the vehicle in question.
It’s all about keeping you safe in a roadworthy car and ensuring that you won’t spend a lot in repairing major damage. The frame is one of the most important parts of any vehicle because it’s a big part of safety.
Repairing a frame of a car can become expensive, and in many cases may actually cost more than buying a different secondhand vehicle.
Minor frame damage may be acceptable in some cases, but for the most part, purchasing a vehicle that has suffered structural damage, especially in relation to the frame, is not recommended.
Hail and Flood Damage
A detailed vehicle history check can also inform you of other types of damage which the vehicle in question may have suffered throughout the course of its life, such as from hail and flooding.
Keep in mind that these are important in relation to insurance because in many cases, flooding and hail are both not covered by basic insurance.
If these forms of damage are not covered in specific cases, and the previous owners never filed a claim, they may have never repaired the damage. Knowing whether or not you have to contend with repairing weather-related damage is important for your wallet.
Last Reported Mileage and Miles Driven Per Year + Odometer Rollbacks
Something else that is important to know when purchasing a used vehicle is how many miles or kilometers it has on it. After all, this is crucial in terms of determining what kind of shape the car is in, how “old” it is, and how worn down the components may be.
A car with 500,000 miles on it will not last as long, and likely have many more physical problems than a car that only has 50,000 miles on it.
For example, you may be split between a car from 2015 and one from 2010. Sure, the year it was made is important, but what really matters is how many miles are on the cars.
A car may technically be older, but if it has fewer miles on it, chances are that it will have a longer lifespan compared to a newer vehicle with many miles on it. Knowing how far a vehicle has been is always important.
A really sneaky thing which some secondhand car dealers or private sellers may attempt to do is to roll back the odometer. This means that people can turn back the odometer to make it look like fewer miles have been traveled with the vehicle.
It’s a cheap and sneaky tactic to make it seem like a car is newer and in better condition than it actually is. If you see that the vehicle in question has had an odometer rollback, you either want to find out how much it was rolled back by, or avoid purchasing it altogether.
Salvage and Total Loss
Yet another important piece of information that you can glean from a car history check is if it has a salvage designation. A car which is labeled as a salvage has sustained some form of damage which costs more to repair than the car was insured for.
The vehicle may have been damaged to the point where it is no longer worth the cost to repair it, at least not in terms of the insured value. Some salvage cars may be repaired to the point where they are once again roadworthy. However, in most cases, salvage cars are deemed unfit for the road.
A vehicle history check can help you avoid purchasing a salvage car which is either going to take a lot of money to get back into a roadworthy state, or may never be able to be on the road again. Of course, purchasing a vehicle which has been labeled a salvage is not a good idea.
On that same note, you will also find out if the car was deemed to be a total loss. If the car was deemed a total loss, it would have been more expensive to repair it than the insurance claim would have been able to cover; the vehicle may have been so damaged that the previous owner decided to get rid of it and just buy a new one.
Purchasing a salvaged vehicle is not recommended and purchasing a car that has been deemed a total loss is usually even worse.
Collisions and Airbag Deployment
Something else you can glean from a comprehensive vehicle history report is collision and airbag deployment information. If the airbags were deployed, it means that there was a collision, and chances are that the vehicle suffered some serious damage, and there may have been insurance claims filed as well.
You also want to know that the deployed airbags have been replaced with new and functioning ones that can keep you safe in the event of a collision in the future.
The next thing which a vehicle history check can tell you is what the service history of the vehicle in question is like. Some car owners are great with their vehicle’s service requirements.
Most responsible car owners get their cars serviced on a regular basis, usually as recommended by the owner’s manual. Getting the brakes replaced, making sure there is always fresh oil in the car, rotating tires, checking the electronics, are an integral part of vehicle maintenance.
If you see that the vehicle you plan on purchasing has been taken in for service as required, chances are that the vehicle will be in decent condition.
However, if the previous owner neglected doing regular maintenance and service checks, you can probably expect the vehicle to suffer from some issues.
Something else that you will learn when doing a vehicle history check is if there are any previous insurance claims which have been filed on the vehicle. Knowing if there have been will give you a good idea of the vehicle’s history.
If there were insurance claims made on it, you know that there could potentially be some damages. These insurance claim reports will inform you of the nature of the claim — whether the claim was made for a minor scratch or a major collision.
This is also important because a vehicle that has previously made insurance claims will in all likelihood be much more expensive to insure in the future.
The Type of Use
Although this may not be quite as important knowing what the car was used for may be important.
Of course, some cars are used for personal purposes, some for business, others leased, and some might have been used for professional purposes such as a taxi or a police vehicle.
This is something you may like to know. After all, a private vehicle which was only used to get from point A to point B is going to be in better shape than a taxi cab or a police car that has been on the road day in and day out for years.
Perhaps one of the most important things that a vehicle history check will tell you is if the vehicle in question is legally yours. In other words, you will find out if the “previous owner” was actually the real owner.
Unfortunately, car theft and reselling of stolen cars occur more often than one would like to think. It’s a common occurrence and it can end up costing a lot of money.
If by chance you purchase a vehicle that is stolen, you may lose your money or you may even face legal consequences. Knowing that you don’t have a stolen vehicle in your garage should help bring you some peace of mind.
Yet another piece of valuable info that you can find with a vehicle history report is what the warranty on the vehicle in question is. Warranties usually last for quite some time, but they don’t last forever.
Having a vehicle that still has an existing warranty, one that has not been voided, is important. If you purchase a used vehicle that is no longer under warranty, if something goes wrong, you will be on the hook to replace or repair the broken components.
For this reason, it is always better to purchase a used vehicle that still has some semblance of a warranty. After all, used vehicles can be quite old, and old vehicles often suffer from problems; having a good warranty to cover your back is always a bonus.
A vehicle history report will also tell you if there is a lien on your used car. This is fairly rare in Canada, although it does happen. If there is a lien on the car, it means that the car was used as collateral to get a mortgage or loan.
If you buy a used car that still has a lien on it, you may land in hot water because the original owner of the car, who took the lien out on it, may default on their loan. If those debts aren’t paid, the collateral, which in this case would be the car, may be repossessed.
Even worse is that you may not receive any financial compensation. Buying a car that has a lien on it is never a good idea.
Something that often happens with cars, especially those coming right off the line, is that parts may be recalled. Sometimes things like brakes, steering wheels, pedals, or airbags can be defective in nature.
It would not be the first time that X component for Y model of car was recalled due to some major defect. With a vehicle history check, you will be informed of whether or not any components on the vehicle have been recalled.
Even more important, this check will also tell you if the original owner attended to the recall and had the defective parts replaced, or if they ignored it. Of course, if you are looking at a vehicle which has had a recall issued on it, one which has been ignored, this is a car not worth taking a second look at.
If it’s a Lemon – Branding
With a comprehensive vehicle history report, you will also be told of any branding information that you need to be aware of, such as if the vehicle was branded junk, a lemon, a salvage, or a total loss. Any sort of branding which the car has incurred over its lifespan will be present in a vehicle history report.
What You Will Need to Get a Vehicle History Check
The good thing is that vehicle history checks are very easy to perform, they are often free, and all you need is your VIN.
The VIN can be found at the front of the dash by the driver’s side or on the door jamb (sometimes on both the passenger’s and driver’s doors). The VIN may also be found on the car’s title, registration documents, and insurance documents.
The first thing you should do when purchasing a used vehicle is to get a vehicle history report. It can make the difference between buying a safe or an unsafe car, and it can make the difference between making a good investment or losing additional money on your purchase.