Vehicle History Report: Everything You Need To Know

Buying a used car can create significant stress and anxiety. Handing over your hard-earned money for any automobile is difficult, especially when the vehicle’s past is unknown.

The exterior and interior condition hints at how much care the previous owner provided. Still, looking at visible areas of a vehicle won’t tell you about repairs and routine maintenance or whether it was in a crash.

Used car buyers should review a vehicle history report to discover any hidden issues the car experienced during its time on the road. Continue reading to learn what information is in a vehicle history report and how it can help you make an informed decision about buying a used automobile.

What Is a Vehicle History Report?

A vehicle history report is a collection of records that provide information about a used car that may affect your decision to buy or how much to pay for it. Records or events in the vehicle’s life get collected from thousands of sources. They may help you answer these crucial questions:

  • Ownership: How many people owned this car?
  • Accident(s): Was this car involved in a collision?
  • Mileage: Does the odometer on this car show accurate mileage?
  • Inspections: Has this car had up-to-date inspections?
  • Lemon: Is this car branded a lemon?

What Is on a Vehicle History Report? 

The information on a vehicle history report will help you better understand the used car you’re interested in buying. It will give details into significant events that potential owners should consider, such as:

What’s Not on a Vehicle History Report?

Companies that provide vehicle history reports, such as AutoCheck and Carfax, make efforts to keep their information current. However, a report will only show the latest event submitted to the reporting companies. It’s possible that a vehicle could be wrecked, repaired, and sold before a record of the incident shows up in the databases companies use to compile information.

A report won’t tell you the automobile’s overall condition or wear-and-tear level. For example, the history outline doesn’t indicate that a car’s tires have worn tread or that the brake rotors need replacing.

Vehicle history reports might indicate a vehicle has only one owner, but they will not name the individual. The information will not provide any insight into the driving habits of previous owners.

When Do You Need a Vehicle History Report?

It pays to be prepared when you’re buying a used vehicle and also when selling one. A vehicle history report can help both used car buyers and sellers.

  • If you’re buying a used car, the information in a report can help you identify any hidden issues with the vehicle, such as previous flooding or other salvage labels.
  • When you are selling a used car, showing a vehicle history report to potential buyers can help ease concerns about the car’s history and, therefore, make it easier to sell the vehicle.

How Accurate Are Vehicle History Reports?

An accurate vehicle history report relies on accuracy in the databases collecting the info. Errors can happen. Delays in providing information can cause an incomplete report. Gaps or omissions in a car’s service history may exist because the auto shop didn’t report the repair. Handy owners might regularly perform oil changes and other maintenance in their driveway, but those events won’t be on that vehicle’s report. Vehicle history reports provide a snapshot of a car’s life and service history. They do not necessarily provide the entire story.

RELATED: Car Maintenance Guide: Everything You Need to Know

How Do You Get a Vehicle History Report?

Description of VIN locations.
Description of VIN locations.

Vehicle history reports detail a car’s ownership, title status, accident history, and more. To get a report on a car you want to buy, you’ll typically need to have its 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN). Locate the VIN on the driver’s side dashboard near the windshield. Alternatively, you may be able to use the vehicle’s license plate number.

With that number, you can visit several websites to check on the vehicle you’re interested in.

Carfax and AutoCheck are leaders in the vehicle history reporting industry. Access AutoCheck’s service through our site for easy assistance.

How Much Is a Vehicle History Report?

Vehicle history reports usually cost between $25 and $40, depending on the service you use. Most providers offer discounted packages for reports on multiple automobiles while you’re car shopping.

Many dealerships, online auto marketplaces (like our sister site Autotrader), and some private sellers provide history reports at no cost on used vehicles for sale.

Free Vehicle History Reports

Be aware of the difference between a free vehicle history report and getting a vehicle history report for free. Unless it’s part of a promotion, running a complete vehicle history report costs money. Services typically let you search a VIN for free and will tell you if records are available for that vehicle. Still, you’ll need to pay to obtain the report that summarizes essential information about accidents, service records, and more.

On the other hand, sellers often provide free access to a vehicle history report for free to show potential buyers that they’re being open about the vehicle’s condition.

Free Vehicle Information


Description decoding what VIN digits represent.

While a full history report requires a fee, some tools with useful information are available for free.

Steps After Viewing Vehicle History Report

Take another test drive to get a feel for things. For example, you might detect an issue that happens only when the car gets driven on the highway. Also, remember to listen to your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, step away from the deal.

Use information from the history report as leverage when you patiently negotiate a fair price.

AutoCheck and Carfax reports have good information to help you during your car-buying process. If the vehicle history report doesn’t show any glaring red flags, you’ll need an independent mechanic to perform an inspection.

MORE: Test Driving a Car: A Checklist of What To Look For

Do You Still Need an Inspection?

A vehicle history report does not substitute for a mechanic’s inspection. We believe it’s best practice to obtain a thorough examination from an independent mechanic before you buy a vehicle. A professional can review the automobile to help ensure it does not exhibit any hidden damage.

Find a certified mechanic and give the person a copy of the vehicle’s history report. Qualified technicians will be familiar with the systems that have a tendency for problems. An experienced mechanic’s assessment might cost a hundred dollars or more. The fee will be worth it because their evaluation might discover mechanical issues that keep you from purchasing a car that would cost you much more down the road.

Services such as Alliance Inspection Management’s AiM Certify, owned by Kelley Blue Book parent Cox Automotive, will come to your location and inspect a vehicle. Depending on the service inspection you choose, costs range from $129 to $349.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated since its initial publication.

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