Vehicle history reports (VHRs) have become an integral aspect of buying used cars. These valuable tools provide considerable insight into the history of a car, information that was previously unavailable to car buyers. 

However, with that said, these reports can be incomplete and sometimes even inaccurate. They rely heavily upon information reported to their sources and therein lies the flaw. The operative word in that previous sentence was “reported.”

The accuracy of a VHR is only as sound as the information reported to it. This makes reading between the lines of a vehicle history report a valuable skill to cultivate. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Type of Title

A salvage title means the car has experienced an incident from which recovery was deemed as being beyond financial viability. In other words, rather than fixing it, the insurance company decided it was cheaper to pay the owner current market value and move on. This means there might be all sorts of unresolved issues with which you’ll have to contend. 

Further, if the title shows the car is bank or lender owned, it may be a repo. This could mean the car’s maintenance history is spotty. After all, if someone is having trouble making their car payment, spending cash on maintenance is likely to be low on the list of priorities for their money. 

Ownership History

This section tracks a vehicle from the time it was originally sold to the dealer or private owner in whose custody you found it. Just as with the resume of a potential hire, you should look for gaps in the dates. If a significant one is there — with no explanation — it could be because the car has suffered a rather significant trauma and was off the books while it was being reconditioned. 

Aside from that, the ownership history can give you clues as to the type of usage the car endured and the number of miles each previous owner drove it. This information figures prominently into the price you should pay for the car. Which, in turn, can help you determine how well the car would fit into your budget with a car loans calculator like the one offered by RoadLoans

Mileage Records

As we mentioned above, the number of miles driven by each previous owner is a key piece of information. This is particularly true when balanced against the length of ownership. If an owner had the car five months and drove it 20,000 miles it’s a safe bet a lot of scheduled maintenance was overlooked. After all, when was the car sitting still long enough to be serviced?

Conversely, if an owner had the car five years and only drove it 15,000 miles, it was likely to have been a pleasure car and cared for with more concern — this is particularly true in the case of expensive luxury cars and sports cars.

Where the Car Lived — and When

A lot of very low mileage used cars started popping up for sale around the country in the months following the Hurricane Katrina disaster. As you may recall, significant flooding accompanied that hurricane. A lot of new car dealers’ stock suffered water damage as a result. 

Using a VHR to trace a car’s whereabouts can give you clues regarding different hazards the vehicle may have experienced. After all, knowing a 2005 car was one of the some 571,000 on lots in New Orleans and the surrounding area during the hurricane is absolutely a reason to question its reliability.

As you can see, reading between the lines of a vehicle history report can reveal more information than is evident at first glance. The key lies in knowing how to interpret the information the report contains. 

And, whatever else you do — always have a potential used car purchase inspected by a reputable mechanic; one intimately familiar with the make and model in question.  

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Alicia Baker

Alicia is a Canadian writer whose enthusiasm for cultural and automotive are combined in her writing. Her background includes links to insurance, finance, and automotive safety.

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