How to Read a Used Car Report  header image

How to Read a Used Car Report

When looking to buy a used car the process can seem daunting. Reading a used car report like Carfax can be very helpful. It can give you a peek at the vehicle’s history. What should you pay attention to on the report? What can you skim over? You already know to look for salvage titles or severe accidents, but what else should you check for? We have a few other questions you should consider while you review.                        

Does the used car report inform you of frequent changes of ownership?

If you look at the bottom of your report and see that the vehicle history includes numerous owners in a shorter amount of time, you're looking at a car or truck that is known in the industry as a "hot potato." A hot potato usually has some type of complicated or expensive repair issue. You don't want to become the next owner trying to get rid of a hot potato.  

Is maintenance up to date? 

Some vehicles require service at specific mileage or age, but many sellers will try to avoid the pricey maintenance fees and instead pass the expense to the next owner. The histories on used car reports can be good at tracking the vehicle's maintenance record, not every dealership or shop works with each reporting company. Before you decide to buy a used car, get specifics of where the work was done and contact the repair facility directly if you have questions about the service.  

Does the vehicle history report show any failed an emissions tests? 

Emissions testing is the used to determine the level of air pollutants emitted from the exhaust of a vehicle. If the vehicle history report shows multiple failed tests on your used car report or if it doesn't show one within the last couple of years, it is a good idea to ask about it. A vehicle can fail the test for a number of reasons. Many mechanical problems can cause a vehicle to emit excess pollutants. The air injection system forces fresh air into the exhaust. If that system fails it can cause the test to detect high levels of hydrocarbons or carbon monoxide. Other problems that could lead to failing include oxygen sensor malfunction, ignition system defects, and vehicle vacuum leaks.  [Are the fixes costly, or could they be managed with a minor tune-up with the local mechanic? Is failing an emissions test reason to say no to the car entirely? Maybe mention potential fixes – would more frequent oil changes or new filters fix the problem?

Where has the vehicle lived? 

Look for the past places the vehicle has been. You can usually find that on the annual registration renewals and in the service history. Has it been in snow streets or near a beach? Sand, whether used on snow or just part of the coastal environment, can destroy a vehicles undercarriage. Sometimes the vehicle will be flagged if it was registered in an area that experiences hurricanes or severe flooding.  [Depending on the climate, it might be an indicator to look for rust damage, both on the doors or underneath on the undercarriage.]

Is the seller who they say they are? 

There can be scammers everywhere. After a review of the report, call up the owner and ask them some basic history questions. Things like "how long have you owned the car", and "where have you had the repairs and maintenance done," help you feel more confident that the owner is who they say there are and the true owner of the vehicle.   

If you’ve decided a used car is right for you, a used car report can help you find the best vehicle for you. After you have chosen your perfect car make sure to contact your local Farm Bureau agent to make sure you’re covered when you drive off with your new car.​


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