Make Sure You Aren’t Buying a Salvaged or Stolen Car

Auto Fraud: Vehicle History Reports

When you are shopping for a used car, truck or motorcycle, how can you protect yourself against the numerous frauds and scams some auto dealers and private party sellers perpetrate? Concerned for a potential accident from an unsafe vehicle and need an Oklahoma City car accident lawyer?

One smart practice is to get a vehicle history report. A vehicle history report can help you determine:

  • Has the odometer been tampered with?
  • Has the car been in a serious accident and experienced damage you can’t see on the surface?
  • Has the car been in a flood?
  • Is the car a lemon that was returned by a previous owner?
  • Is it a stolen car?

A comprehensive vehicle history report will include information such as:

  • Current title: Does the dealer or person selling the car have clear title and authority to sell?
  • Title branding: Most state motor vehicle agencies “brand” a vehicle’s title if it has gone to salvage, has experienced fire or flood damage, odometer problems, or has been turned back to the dealer or manufacturer as a lemon.
  • Total loss history: Has an insurance company declared the vehicle a total loss? The car may have been repaired and on the surface looks fine, but it may be unsafe to drive or may soon require costly repairs.
  • Odometer reading: Sufficient odometer information may turn up discrepancies that reveal the odometer has been tampered with. The odometer reading is a primary factor in setting the price of a car.
  • Salvage history: Has the vehicle been owned by a salvage yard or auction house? A vehicle that has a salvage history has had serious damage.

Every vehicle has a VIN, a 17-digit Vehicle Information Number. A car’s VIN is like its Social Security number. All the major milestones in the life of a car are entered into various databases coded to the vehicle’s VIN. When a vehicle is sold, insured, is the subject of an insurance claim, is reported as stolen, or is sold to a salvage yard or auction house, a record of the transaction is entered under the vehicle’s VIN.

You can see a vehicle’s VIN on the driver’s side of the dashboard, near the windshield, on a small strip that has the 17-digit number and a barcode. The VIN is also on most important auto documents, including the insurance verification card.

Here are four services that provide vehicle history reports to consumers:

  1. Carfax: www.carfax.com; $39.99, or $54.99 for unlimited reports for 60 days.Carfax is considered by many to be best of class; it certainly is the most expensive. A vehicle’s Carfax provides almost any information you would want to know about a car or truck you are thinking about buying: title information, number of owners, odometer readings; has the car been totaled, salvaged, or experienced flood or hail damage; has it been returned as a lemon; has it been used as a rental car, taxi or police car; airbag deployments, service records, recall information, warranty information, etc.Carfax draws upon information from every state motor vehicle agency in the U.S. and every provincial agency in Canada. It also draws information from auto auctions, fire and police departments, collision repair facilities and rental agencies.One way Carfax justifies its price is by offering the Carfax Buyback Guarantee. If a Carfax report does not reveal that the vehicle has a “branded title” –in other words, a state agency has branded the vehicle’s title for salvage, fire or flood damage or odometer problems — Carfax will buy the car from you at the price you paid for it.
  2. AutoCheck: www.autocheck.com; $19.99, or $44.99 for unlimited reports for 30 days.Carfax’s major competitor is AutoCheck, a service of Experian, the credit report company. An AutoCheck vehicle history report is similar to a Carfax report, but its price is quite a bit lower. AutoCheck claims to obtain more information from auto auctions, where cars which have experienced major damage often end up.Like Carfax, AutoCheck offers a buy-back guarantee. One feature AutoCheck touts is its AutoCheck Score, similar to a credit score. The score, based on all the information in the vehicle’s history, is a simple way to compare the vehicle to other similar cars built the same year.
  3. VINCheck: www.nicb.org/theft_and_fraud_awareness/vincheck.

The best thing about VINCheck is that it’s free.

VINCheck is provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit operated by insurance companies, vehicle rental companies, auto auctions, vehicle finance companies and other organizations. VINCheck draws upon the databases of its members, especially insurance claim information from member insurance companies.

A VINCheck doesn’t offer as much information as a Carfax or AutoCheck report, but it does cover two of the main things you are looking for: title branding and theft. VINCheck provides two reports:

    • VINCheck Total Loss Record: Reports if the vehicle has gone to an auction house or salvage yard. Disreputable auto rebuilders purchase vehicles that have been totaled, fix them up and put them back on the market, without revealing that the vehicle was in an accident and may have more problems than meet the eye.
    • VINCheck Theft Record: Reveals if the vehicle has been reported stolen in the last five years and has not been recovered and/or has not turned up at salvage.
  1. National Motor Vehicle Title Information System: www.vehiclehistory.gov; less than $10.The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System is run by the federal government. It provides consumers with much of the info found in a Carfax or AutoCheck report but at a lower cost.An NMVTIS report includes information about a vehicle’s current title, title branding history, most recent odometer reading, determination by an insurance company that a vehicle is totaled, if the vehicle was purchased by a salvage yard, and theft reports.The actual NMVTIS search is conducted by several third-party affiliate providers, which you can access from the NMVTIS website. The affiliates charge fees as low as $3.50 up to $9.99.

No Vehicle History Report is Foolproof

None of these services has access to all information about all motor vehicles. Vehicle history reports reply on databases. Crooked auto dealers, salvage yards and/or third parties can fail to enter required information or can enter fraudulent information. Also:

  • A vehicle may have experienced serious damage, but not quite enough to have been declared a total loss by an insurance company.
  • A damaged or totaled vehicle may not have gone to a salvage yard or auction house.
  • If the vehicle was not covered by collision insurance, no insurance claim was entered into a database.
  • Many rental companies self-insure, which means events involving those vehicles do not show up in insurance company databases.

Although no vehicle history report is perfect, since these reports draw upon multiple databases — from state agencies, insurance companies, salvage yards, etc. — the report may reveal discrepancies that raise red flags.

Ask the Dealer

Want a comprehensive vehicle history report but don’t want to pay for it? Most auto dealers carry subscriptions to Carfax and/or AutoCheck. Ask the dealer to run a report on the vehicle you are considering. If the dealer refuses, think twice.

For More Information

For more info about auto fraud, see our webpage: “Auto Fraud and Auto Dealer Scams in Oklahoma.”

Do you believe you were sold a car or truck under fraudulent circumstances? Contact Hasbrook & Hasbrook for a free consultation about your auto fraud case. Give us a call at 866-416-4737, or send an email  to cth@hasbrooklaw.com, or use our website contact form: Contact Us.