Car Buying 101: How to Spot Red Flags on a Vehicle History Report

If you’re shopping for a used car, a vehicle history report is a must-have.  We at TRED have quite a lot of experience spotting the warning signs and red flags you might come across when looking at a used car. Let’s take a look at what we want to look out for when buying a used car.
Vehicle history reports can be easily obtained by using services like CARFAX and AutoCheck. Services like this have access to huge electronic databases that store useful information. You’ll be able to see when the car changed ownership, whether it was owned by a private owner, a company, or a fleet. You’ll also be able to see events like transfer of ownership and insurance totals (don’t buy this car).
Regardless of the contents of a vehicle history report, you should get any used car inspected by a professional before you buy. Basically, you want as much information about the car and its history before buying. A little legwork during the shopping phase will save a lot of time and money in the months and years after the initial transaction. This is why all TRED vehicles go through a thorough 150-point inspection. We want you to be appropriately informed before making a major purchase. That starts with a detailed breakdown of the health and condition of the car. Here’s a list of things to look for on that vehicle history report.

1. It’s a young car, but it’s had a lot of owners


Car Buying 101: How to Spot Red Flags on a Vehicle History Report


If a car has had more than one owner every one to two years, you could surmise that it has some problems and people have been quick to get rid of it. You’re also going to struggle to track down all the maintenance records if there have been a lot of owners in the past.

2. Multiple car accidents listed

Depending on the severity of the collision, one accident isn’t necessarily going to make it an unsafe car, provided it has been repaired to a high standard. If there is more than a single accident listed, it’s probably a good idea to look elsewhere. Even if the car appears fine, there could be hidden damage that you won’t find until later.

3. Missing annual registrations/renewals of tax

If the car wasn’t registered for one year or more, this could indicate that the car was off the road for a while, for example, after unreported damage.

4. No mention of the vehicle being “shipped to dealer”

Most brand new cars are delivered to dealerships; if this event doesn’t appear on the car’s history report, it could indicate that the car was imported from somewhere outside the country (not necessarily a problem but good to know), or that it’s a rebuilt vehicle, which could pose some issues.

5. Failed emission inspection



If the emissions test failure is recent, you might have cause for alarm. However, if the car has passed multiple times since the failure, the problem has likely been fixed.

6. Listed as a Fleet or Rental Fleet vehicle

This essentially means that the car was a rental car before it got to you. Rental cars *can* have problems due to a lack of proper care and maintenance, particularly because they tend to get a lot of use by people who aren’t generally that worried about the long-term effects—but you should be. Have it inspected, but keep in mind ex-rentals can also be a great deal when found in a good condition!

7. The phrase “insurance loss”

This means the car was totaled at some point. If a car has this on the vehicle history report and is still on the road, you can assume it was salvaged and rebuilt—which might be okay with you—but you definitely want to have the car thoroughly inspected for any potential problems.

8. The words “Salvage” or “Rebuilt”

This indicates a car has been rebuilt from a totaled vehicle. Again, this might be okay with you, but you should have it thoroughly inspected by a mechanic.

9. Water damage

Car Buying 101: How to Spot Red Flags on a Vehicle History Report


Water damage tends to impact the electronics in a car, so if your car shows signs of this, there’s a good chance you’ll run into trouble down the road with the electrical system.  Water damage typically shows stains in the headliner as well as in the spare tire compartment.

10. Something about the car doesn’t match the history report

Look specifically at things like the VIN Number, year, model, odometer reading, age, and calculated vehicle owners—this should all match up with what the dealer is telling you. Discrepancies suggest that something has been fiddled with.
Luckily, TRED supplies the entire vehicle history report and the result of our 150-point inspection on every car’s profile, so you know exactly what you’re getting. We’re happy to walk you through the findings—just say the word.
Do you have a red flag in mind that you think we should add to the list? Let us know via Twitter or leave a comment.

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