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what vehicle history reports tell you

(and your insurer)

While imperfect, vehicle history reports can help divulge useful nuggets about a used car or truck before you decide to buy it. We'll explain what's in these reports and why they may be of interest to your insurer, too.

Vehicle history reports: what’s in them

Like a blind date with a magician, buying a used car can be a nerve-wracking experience involving too much mystery and too many unanswered questions. Vehicle history reports like the ones offered by CARFAX® and AutoCheck® offer shoppers and insurers a chance to unearth the history of used cars.

Here's some of the key information that may be available:

  • Title transfers (number of prior owners)
  • Past odometer readings
  • Reports of flood or fire damage
  • Whether the car has ever had a salvage title
  • Registration history
  • Maintenance records
  • Severe accident history
  • Reports of theft
  • Whether the car was ever used as a rental or service vehicle
  • Recalls or buybacks issued by the manufacturer

Using vehicle history reports to find the right car

car

Vehicle history reports contain info that can prevent you from buying a lemon. Say, for instance, you find that the odometer on your desired Toyota was tampered with and it has many more miles than you thought. Or maybe your issue is more personal: you're bothered that the damage to your prospective car was related to crime, not an accident, and you'd rather not buy a car with a history like that no matter how well it drives.

On the flip side, reports can reveal a history of loving attention and give you confidence to make your purchase.

Whatever the case may be, a vehicle history report can be your detective lens, giving you a closer look at your car and its history. And once you've pieced together the full picture of a vehicle's past, you can determine whether you want it to be part of your future.

The sources that provide information to the vehicle history report companies are wide-ranging, from government departments and law-enforcement agencies to maintenance shops and auction houses. Each fact about a prospective car comes from a resource you may not look into otherwise.

Vehicle histories and your car insurance

At Esurance, we use vehicle history reports to help us determine whether a car has a salvage title. Generally, cars with salvage titles had been so damaged that the cost of repairs would have exceeded about 75 percent of their pre-damage value. In other words, these cars have been through the wringer (usually because of a collision or severe fire or flood damage). And that means they're risky to insure.

If your car never had a salvage title, you can rest easy when it comes to your insurance policy.

A small disclaimer on vehicle history reports

While these reports can be incredibly useful when you're buying a used car, remember that they're not perfect. Not every state authority, former owner, or mechanic supplies data to vehicle history companies like CARFAX and AutoCheck, so vehicle history reports don't always tell the full story. But on the whole, the info they provide can be an invaluable step toward finding the right ride.

Related links

The Esurance guide to buying a used car
In addition to using vehicle history reports, our tips will help you shop for a secondhand car the smart way.

Crash test safety
Find out how to research a car's crash performance, which is another factor that goes into your car insurance rate.