How Vehicle History Data is Compiled
Whether you're buying a used vehicle for yourself or a loved one, a vehicle history report is a valuable way to peer into your potential automobile's past and prevent the purchase of an unsafe or unsavory vehicle.
If you're not familiar with the term, a vehicle history report (VHR) is a summary of valuable details that include:
- Title information.
- Accident history.
- Fire or flood damage.
- Other potential hidden problems.
By using your the unique vehicle identification number (VIN) associated with that automobile, you can access vital car history details.
Vehicle history reports are a compilation of public- and private-record information. VHR vendors access data from a number of sources, including:
- State motor vehicle title agencies.
- Car manufacturers.
- Repair shops.
- Junk or salvage yards.
- Auto recyclers.
- Insurance companies.
The bulk of information collected by VHR vendors typically comes directly from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) operated by the U.S. Department of Justice. The businesses and organizations mentioned above report their information to the NMVTIS.
You can expect NMVTIS-approved vehicle history reports to include the following:
- Title information, including:
- Current state of title/registration.
- Previous title history.
- This information sheds light on a car's ownership and protects consumers from purchasing a stolen vehicle.
- Odometer reading.
- This helps prevent fraud and protects customers from buying a car for more than it's actually worth.
- Brand history.
- These descriptive labels relate to the status of a car (i.e. junk, salvage, flood damaged, etc.) and are applied by state motor vehicle titling agencies.
- Total loss history
- This term is usually given to a car after severe damage. Knowing the total loss history can protect you from a vehicle that may be unsafe.
- Salvage history.
- This indicates the car was repaired after severe damage, which can also prevent the purchase of a potentially unsafe vehicle.
While the NMVTIS reports are thorough, a more detailed car history report from another vendor may include:
- Vehicle repair and maintenance history.
- Open recalls.
- Information on multiple owners.
It's important to keep in mind that vehicle history reports are not issued by any government agency, so they can range in both price and details.
Some VHR vendors offer free basic information that could be useful before you dive deep into the specifics of your potential vehicle—such as a free “lemon" check to find out if there were any manufacturer buybacks or lemon records on the car.
For recalls, lemon information, and other broad car history details about a particular make or model, you can always search online or check car manufacturers' websites.