Car Buying

Old cars don't die, they just get resold. Before you buy a used car, whether from a dealer or private seller, you'll want to know as much about it as you can. Even without anyone trying to deceive you, the vehicle you're considering may have hidden problems that go undetected during a simple visual inspection or even a short test drive.

A vehicle history report prepared by a third party is one way to help know what you're getting into. Combining information from state DMVs (Departments of Motor Vehicles) and Canadian RMVs (Registry of Motor Vehicles) as well as police reports and other sources across the country, a vehicle history report can give you valuable details about where the car has been.

Here are some things to look for -- or look out for -- when you get a report on a vehicle. While these aren't necessarily reasons to avoid buying a car, be sure to ask the seller about information you see on the vehicle history report before you make a decision:

- Many owners. The more driveways a car has been in, the less likely it's been lovingly cared for all its life. Not everyone is as responsible about car care as you are. Rental cars and former taxis, for example, will often have undergone a lot of abuse but also can be priced considerably lower.

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- Routine maintenance. Cars that are regularly serviced generally last longer and are worth more as a result. Knowing where previous owners took the vehicle for service helps if you have questions about repairs or maintenance records.

- Name and description. Be sure the car in the report is the same as the car you're looking at. Carefully reviewing the vehicle description is one way to avoid various types of vehicle fraud, like VIN cloning. A cloned vehicle involves using a vehicle identification number (VIN) from another registered vehicle to mask the identity of a similar make/model stolen car. Vehicle history reports can include details about the vehicle color and engine type, so you can make sure you're evaluating the right car.

- Suspicious markings. Keep an eye out for records of body work or inspections that might indicate a prior unreported incident.

Vehicle history reports, like those from CARFAX, can help you buy with more confidence. CARFAX has compiled a database of more than 7 billion vehicle records from 34,000 sources, including motor vehicle departments, vehicle inspection stations, auto auctions, fleet management and rental agencies, fire and police departments, automobile manufacturers and much more.