Reading a VHR

Reading a Vehicle History Report

A vehicle history report (VHR), or VIN Check, is used to obtain important information pertaining to a vehicle's past. By using records from state DMVs, insurance companies, police reports, and repair documents, a VIN lookup can alert potential buyers of existing problems before the purchase of a used car.

Some of the information include on a VHR includes:

  • Past ownership.
  • Liens on the vehicle.
  • Title & accident history.
  • Odometer readings & rollback alerts.
  • Lemon" determination.

Whether you opt for a free VIN check or a more detailed subscription VHR, it's important to understand how to interpret the information presented so you can make an informed decision before buying a used vehicle.

Breaking Down a VIN Number Lookup

Common sections of a detailed VIN check include:

  • Vehicle information and report summary.
  • Car or truck value calculator.
  • Ownership history.
  • Title history.
  • Additional history.
  • Detailed history.

Typically, you can find a VIN lookup in the following forms:

  • Free single report.
  • Paid subscription.
The difference between a free vehicle history report and those that require a paid subscription usually comes down to how detailed the report is and how the information itself is presented. Most subscription reports are more detailed and broken down into sections (like those above), which make the information presented easier to interpret.

Vehicle Information and Report Summary

A detailed VHR often consists of basic vehicle information and a quick summary of the detailed report that follows. Some of the information you'll find includes:

  • Vehicle identification number (VIN) analysis.
  • Make and model of the vehicle, and information relating to:
    • Body style
    • Engine information.
  • Standard equipment features.
  • Safety options.
    • Includes reliability ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • VHR summary, which will provide a quick overview of the vehicle's:
    • Accident damage.
    • Owner history.
    • Service records.
    • Mileage.
    • Retail value.

Estimating a Vehicle's Value

Since each car's history is slightly different, determining the actual value of a car or truck can be difficult. Instead of relying only on the retail book value of a vehicle, some detailed VIN number checks utilize a price calculator, which can help you get a more accurate determination and inform you of the accuracy of the seller's asking price.

Vehicle Ownership History

A detailed VIN check will supply you with a complete history of the vehicle's ownership. Under ownership history, you will find information such as:

  • The number of owners of the vehicle.
  • The year the vehicle was purchased by each owner.
  • If the owner purchased the vehicle for:
    • Personal use.
    • Law enforcement or other government use.
    • Car rental services.
  • Where the vehicle was owned.
  • Estimated mileage for each year of ownership.
  • The last reported odometer reading.

By paying particular attention to the ownership history section, you can determine:

  • How hard the car was driven by each owner.
  • Discrepancies in odometer readings.
  • How frequently the vehicle was sold.

Vehicle Title History

The title history is particularly important when reading a VIN check because it is often the section that will alert buyers of past problems associated with the vehicle. Some of the common alerts you can expect to find include:

  • Whether the title has ever been salvaged.
    • Defined as having been damaged over approximately 75% of its value.
  • Warnings for installation of rebuilt or reconstructed parts.
  • Any reported fire, flood, or hail damage that has occurred.
  • Lemon reports or buybacks that have been filed.
  • Information on odometer rollbacks related to:
    • A new engine being installed.
    • Possible tampering by a previous owner or seller.

Detailed Vehicle History

This portion of a VIN lookup records in detail:

  • Any major events, such as:
  • Liens reported.
  • Registration renewals.
  • Changes in vehicle color.
  • Maintenance records.
  • Service recommendations.

Carefully reading this data will give you a clearer picture of exactly how the vehicle was maintained by previous owners, including where it was taken for basic repairs, and even monthly maintenance such as oil changes.

Additional Vehicle History

Though not all accidents and repairs are reported to law enforcement or insurance companies, the additional history section will give you an idea of most of the damages that have occurred in the past. When reading this section, keep an eye out for alerts pertaining to:

  • Total loss.
    • Vehicle cannot be repaired safely.
    • Repairs will cost more than the vehicle is worth.
  • Structural damage that's occurred.
  • Airbag deployment.
  • Vehicle recalls.
  • Insurance claims.
  • Original or extended warranty coverage.

Obtaining a VIN Check

As mentioned above, you have many choices when it comes to ordering a free VIN check or paid VIN number check. The important thing is to make sure you're informed and educated before you purchase a car, whether from a dealership or a private owner. Get a vehicle history report online, or ask your dealership for one!

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