Understanding Your Vehicle’s Car History Report


Car history reports provide a wealth of information for prospective purchasers of used vehicles, but they are not always easy to read or understand. Here we offer a rundown of what you need to know to accurately interpret your vehicle’s car history report.


Reality Check: First, make sure that the information in the report aligns with the actual description of the car. Is the model year correct? Sellers may have made an honest mistake, but there is the also a remote possibility that the data was purposefully altered to increase the valuation of the car. This is more of a possibility with an individual seller than with a used car dealership. It’s always wise to use your own eyes to verify, to the extent possible, what is in the report.


Past Ownership History: How many owners has the vehicle had? This is an important piece of information as cars with numerous owners are likely to have spottier, less accurate vehicle histories. In addition, it is more difficult to verify with certainty the maintenance history of the car, or which parts may need replacement soon. Perhaps the car has changed hands numerous times because of a recurring mechanical problem that is not immediately apparent during a test drive. With fewer prior owners, the quality and accuracy of the car history report is almost certain to be higher.


Vehicle Score: Services like AutoCheck, which is often used by the professionals, provide a vehicle score that ranges from 1-100 that indicates the relative value of the vehicle as compared with all used cars. In addition, the report will include a comparison score. The comparison score is important because it is the average score (50th percentile) received by other used vehicles of the same year and model. So even if the overall score seems low, if it is above the comparison score, then the vehicle is actually in the upper quartile for cars of that year and type. 


Full History Transcript: The section of the car history report that chronologically lists all (or, hopefully all) events in the vehicle’s history and can be loaded with information.  Here we will sort out the different types of information - some of it is routine and can be mostly ignored, while other events are cause for cautionary concern or even outright alarm.


Routine events in a car’s history typically include:

?      Vehicle manufactured and shipped to dealership: If this event was not recorded in the vehicle’s history, then the vehicle may have been imported from outside the U.S. or may be a rebuilt vehicle.

?      Title transfers: Title transfers record transferences of ownership.

?      Title corrections: Title corrections denote changes to information on the vehicle title.

?      Car financing history: If the vehicle was previously purchased or financed with a loan, lien, or lease, the event will be noted in the car’s history report.

?      Initial registration and registration renewals: Double check that the vehicle’s registration has been renewed annually throughout its history. A missing year of registration may denote that the vehicle was out of operation, perhaps due to an ongoing mechanical problem or unreported accident. If the vehicle is older, confirm that it has recently passed registration - you don’t want any surprises at the DMV when you take your new vehicle in for registration.

?      DMV odometer reading: Double check the requirements of your state to determine when the DMV collects odometer readings.  Odometer readings typically occur during title transfers but are not normally required for vehicles greater than ten years old.

?      Emissions inspections compliance: Where emissions inspections are mandatory, you’ll want to confirm that the vehicle has undergone and passed the emissions inspection as required by law.


Only seeing routine and common events in your vehicle’s history report? That’s great news!  However, if you also see any of the following events, extra caution or consideration is required. Such “cautionary events” typically include:

?      Former fleet or rental vehicle: Was the vehicle formerly part of a fleet of vehicles (perhaps owned by a business) or used as a rental car? This could be a boon, if the vehicle was on a regular maintenance schedule and well-cared for, or a detriment, if the vehicle was abused and poorly maintained.  Be cautious.

?      Previously repossessed: Has the vehicle been “repossessed in the past? If so, it means that the owner could not afford the payments, which may very well mean the vehicle has not been well maintained.


Most importantly, there are some “red flag” events that are crucial to recognize. If you see any of these events, you should probably strongly reconsider your purchase!

?      “Insurance Loss”: This is the official term for “totaled.” The car may have been stolen, and recovered much later, or was in a major accident. If a major accident occurred, the vehicle probably has a “salvage” or “rebuilt” title. Whether stolen (and likely abused) or salvaged and rebuilt, this is a risk you do not want to take!

?      Collision with another vehicle: If the vehicle has been in a collision, even a minor one, it will be included in the car history report.  This could be a red flag, if the collision was significant, or a relatively minor concern.  If you are risk-averse, best to steer clear of vehicles that have been in accidents.

?      Salvaged, rebuilt, or rebuildable: Any of these words are waving a massive red flag in your direction. A salvaged or rebuilt vehicle has been “totaled” and subsequently rebuilt. If the price seems “too good to be true,” this is why.

?      Failed emissions inspection: Did the vehicle recently fail an emissions inspection? If so, it may not be legal for the road, and could require thousands of dollars in additional repairs. If the vehicle failed an emissions inspection long ago, but has since passed follow-up inspections, then you have much less cause for concern.

?      Water damage or storm registration: If the vehicle has incurred water damage, perhaps in connection with a major storm or flood, the insurance company will record an insurance loss in the car history report. Beware of vehicles with water damage - you are sure to encounter electrical problems in the future.


Now you know what to look for in a car history report. At Best Buy Imports, every vehicle on our lot undergoes a complete inspection and comes with a 30-day Powertrain Warranty and a free AutoCheck History Report. Check out our large inventory of quality pre-owned vehicles. We offer Guaranteed Credit Approval and an auto financing process that is simple and straightforward.


We work with local and national lenders to provide you with the best financing options, such as low rates, short terms, and low down payments. So, stop in to one of our convenient Philadelphia locations today and let one of our experienced team members help you get the right vehicle with the best auto loan for your needs.