Vehicle History Tips

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What is a VIN?

The importance of Vehicle ID Numbers

If you are in the market for a used car, you should seriously consider getting a vehicle history report before making your purchase. There are two main sources for car history reports: and You will need to know the car's vehicle identification number, or VIN as it is more often called.

The VIN is to a car what a social security number is to a person. It allows all transactions relevant to the car to be tracked (including the names of owners, dates of sales, and whether the vehicle has ever been registered as a salvage vehicle—one that has been in a major accident).

The VIN is listed on the car's registration paperwork. It is also located on a small metal plate attached to the dashboard. Look for it on the driver's side where the dashboard meets the windshield.

Should I order a vehicle history report?

Vehicle History Reports

Used cars can be an excellent alternative to buying new or leasing. The second you drive a new car off the lot, it depreciates radically. When you buy a used car, that plunge in depreciation has already occurred. However, before buying a used car, make sure you get it thoroughly checked out.

If possible, get the car checked out by a reliable mechanic of your choosing. At the very least, get the vehicle identification number (VIN) and check it against an online car history service such as Carfax. The VIN is usually located on a small metal plate affixed to the dashboard on the driver's side near the windshield.

Why should I get a car history report on the car I'm selling?

How Your Car Can Sell Itself

If you are selling a used car and you know for a fact that your trusty Dodge has been well-maintained and has a clean title, you may want to consider providing prospective buyers a peek at the vehicle's car history report. Nothing says "Buy me!" to a used car buyer than a clean bill of health.

Normally, it's the buyer who logs on to sites such as or to investigate a potential purchase. Save them the time and money, and do the legwork yourself. Simply enter your car's vehicle identification number (VIN) and pay the report fee. You will then be able to view and print the report.

*Some sites allow you to e-mail the report to yourself or view the report multiple times within a certain timeframe. That way you can print multiple copies at your convenience to give to the buyer.

Why should I buy a car history report?

Benefits of Car History Reports

If you're trying to save money by buying a used car, why spend money to buy a vehicle history? For starters, it could save you thousands of dollars in repairs and prevent huge headaches for you down the line. Vehicle history reports can tell you a number of things about a car, including:

• Whether it has ever been in a flood or had its engine rebuilt

• Whether the odometer has been tampered with

• Whether the car is stolen

• If the car was ever registered by a rental agency, police force, or taxi service

All of these factors would have major implications in terms of the wear and tear that was placed on the vehicle before you took ownership.

Where can I research antique and vintage used cars?

VMR International

If you are shopping for a used car, make sure to do your homework. Thanks to the resources available on the Internet, you can spend a few hours online and make a truly informed decision. VMR International's Web site includes information on both American and Canadian used car prices for models dating back to 1943! You can also find car maintenance tips, car reviews, crash test ratings, information on lemon laws by state, and service bulletins.

While VMR itself does not offer car history reports, it does link to Carfax, a reputable online vehicle history reporting company. You can purchase a single vehicle history report or subscribe for a fixed block of time and have unlimited access to the Carfax database throughout your car shopping process.

*Some car history report services claim to offer free vehicle history reports, however, most only offer a fraction of the information available on the car and require payment to gain access to the full report.

How can I avoid buying a lemon?

How to Avoid Buying a Previously Damaged Car

In 2004 alone, more than 75,000 cars sustained flood damage (many as the result of hurricanes in the Southeast). According to, more than half of those cars will end up back on the road. How can you be sure you don't end up buying a used car that has flood damage? Jot down the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) and pull a free car history report at

You can check a list of VINs that have been associated with flood damage, odometer fraud, and other problems. If you want to get the full report, you'll have to pay a fee of around $20 or so.

How can a car history report help me?

A Tool to Prevent a Poor Choice

The online services from which you can purchase a used car history provide a valuable line of defense against a deal going sour. No longer are used car buyers at the mercy of dishonest dealers or less than forthcoming private sellers. Not only do car histories prevent buyers from buying lemons, they put a buyer in a better negotiating position.

Let's say you are considering buying a Honda Civic for your soon-to-be high school grad to use to commute to school. The car looks sound and drives well, but the car history report indicates it was in an accident the year before. You can use this information to negotiate a lower price with the seller or you can walk away from the deal.

*Be careful, a seller who doesn't disclose that a car has been involved in an accident may be keeping other important information from you as well.

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Guru Spotlight
Patricia Walters-Fischer