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Free Car History

A free car history report can provide valuable information to a prospective car buyer.

There are many Internet services that offer free car history reports. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
There are many Internet services that offer free car history reports.

Free Car History

Obtaining a free car history report can help buyers minimize the risks associated with purchasing a used car. Inspecting a car's exterior or interior condition is not always the best way to determine how a vehicle was maintained, how often routine maintenance was performed or how many individuals previously owned the car, all of which are key factors in predicting how the car will perform for a new owner.

There are no laws that require dealers to disclose whether a car has been in a collision or previously repaired so long as the vehicle's title is not a Damaged Title. A Damaged Title is issued when a car sustains an extensive amount of damage and is repaired. When buying a used car, individuals should conduct as much independent research as possible to determine whether they are getting a reliable and safe vehicle. A car history report reveals to buyers whether the car has any issues that could affect its reliability, safety and value. According to ConsumerReports, car history reports uncover whether vehicles have been involved in accidents, flooded or stolen.

How to Order a Car History Report

Free car history reports can be ordered via the Internet from a range of companies or from car dealers. Internet companies often charge a fee to provide more detailed information about a car's history, including whether the vehicle has been stolen or involved in accidents. According to Edmunds.com, buyers who obtain documented car history reports from dealers learn up front what type of car they are purchasing, rather than accepting the car dealer's word on the reliability, value and safety of the vehicle.

Buyers who order car reports online will need to know the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the car they are planning to purchase. With the VIN, buyers may be able to obtain a history of the car by contacting their local motor vehicle administration. Alternatively, the National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free online service that allows buyers to obtain details on whether a vehicle has been stolen or reported as a salvaged car.

Information Contained in a Car History Report

Car history reports help buyers determine whether or not they are purchasing a lemon. Lemon laws protect consumers who purchase vehicles needing frequent repairs or deemed unsafe to drive. Reports can uncover title issues, odometer fraud, frame and water damage, collisions, recall information, and how the vehicle was used by its previous owner(s). All car history reports, whether free or for a fee, include basic information about the vehicle, such as its make/model, engine size and number of cylinders.

Information included in free car history reports is pulled from multiple sources, including state departments of motor vehicles and other state agencies, consumer protection agencies, insurance companies, and car dealers and auctions. Disclosed information varies depending on the company or agency providing the report. Many car history reports contain information on when the car was sold, title changes and where the car has been titled. However, car history reports typically only include collision information if the cars damage meets the requirements for applying for a Damaged Title. When a vehicle with a Damaged Title is sold, an affidavit listing all repairs made must be attached to the cars window. In some states, like in Arkansas, buyers can obtain information about the vehicles title history from the states Department of Finance and Administration. It is important for buyers to know that some car history reports do not contain information on whether the vehicle was repurchased by a manufacturer under lemon laws.

Reliability of Car History Reports

While obtaining a free car history report can help to reveal problems with used cars, reporting companies can fall short of providing accurate information. According to the Arkansas Attorney General Office, many car report history providers only have access to public records, which means that their research may be incomplete. Buyers should fully understand that a clean vehicle history report is not always indicative of a no-risk used car purchase. Accidents, thefts and other problems do not have to be reported to the police and insurance companies, and the police and insurance companies do not always report to companies that provide vehicle history reports. According to CBS News, because car history reports are not always accurate, it is recommended that buyers do not rely solely on the information contained in the report. Instead, a buyer may also want to have the used vehicle thoroughly inspected by an independent mechanic before making a final decision about the purchase.

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