What is a Vehicle History Report and How Much Does it Cost?

When you are spending tens of thousands of dollars on a used car, you can never know too much about it. Vehicles history reports are one of the most helpful things in buying a car. They can tell you all there is to know about a used car.

Where do the Vehicle History Reports Come From?

Who makes Vehicle History Reports? 

There are entire companies dedicated to making and selling vehicle history reports. The major players in this game are Carfax and AutoCheck. The credibility of these sources can be judged from the fact that clean Carfax used cars get much better value on the market.

Where the Vehicle History Reports Get the Data From? 

Vehicle history reports are linked to the vehicle identification number of the car. Data is collected by the agencies that compile the reports over the lifetime of the car. 

So, every time the car is tested for emissions or is involved in an accident the event is logged onto the vehicle history report database along with the date and mileage of the car.

What do the Vehicle History Reports Tell About the Car? 

A vehicle history report can tell you every last thing a buyer needs to know about a used car. This, however, does not include the current mechanical condition of the car, but you can judge it from what the car’s been through over its lifetime.

The main things included in the vehicle history report are the following: 

Salvage Title

The single most important thing on a vehicle history report is a salvage title. This means that the car, at some point in time, was involved in a major accident. 

When cars get in such an accident that the repair costs more than 40% of the car’s market value, it is deemed totaled by the insurance company. It means that instead of getting the car repaired, the insurance company pays the owner the value of the car.

However, the car can still be repaired and insurance companies get such cars repaired and list them for sale. They add the salvage title to make sure that future buyers can know the history of the car. 

You don’t want to buy a car with a salvage title. These cars are difficult to sell afterward and often have irreparable issues.


Serious accidents the car has been in are also reflected on the vehicle history report. These accidents can range from a broken bumper to a crushed body panel. Don’t reject an otherwise good used car based on an accident reported in the history report. 

Odometer Resets

One of the main metrics of the condition of a car is the odometer reading. If the car’s odometer has been reset, it means that the car is far more used than the owner is happy to accept. History reports have these issues documented and can alert you.

Ownership and Usage History 

People selling a car often tell the buyers that it was used in the best way possible while the truth can be different. A vehicle history report can tell you about all the previous owners of the car and the things like it being used as a taxi or a rental car. 

Maintenance Record 

If the car you are interested in was maintained at a dealership the maintenance record will be a part of the history report. This can serve as a good indication of the way the car was taken care of.

Recall History 

If the car is from a model or generation that had manufacturing defects and was recalled by the manufacturers to fix such issues, that would also be listed in the vehicle history report.

How Much Does a Vehicle History Report Cost? 

Companies that issue vehicle history reports offer two pricing models. You can either buy a single report or get a subscription to access as many reports as you want over a limited period of time. 

  • Carfax charges $39.99 for a single report and $54.99 for unlimited reports over 60 days.
  • AutoCheck lets you access one report for $24.99 or 25 reports over a period of 25 days for $49.99.

However, there are ways for accessing the vehicle history reports of a car free of cost.

How to Get Free Vehicle History Reports? 

If you want just the basic information about a used car or just want to see the major red flags, you can do that for free. Here are some pro tips for that: 

  • Go to the website of the National Insurance Crime Bureau and enter the vehicle identification number of the car to get information like any salvage title or stolen record of the car. 
  • If you look for used cars on a classified ads website, the sellers often provide links to the vehicle history report from various sources and you can view them.
  • If you are buying a used car at a dealership, you can ask the salesperson to present you with a vehicle history report. All dealerships have subscriptions to the leading report providers. Refusal to produce a report by a dealership agent is usually a red flag.

How to Use a Vehicle History Report? 

As there are a number of vehicle history providers in the US, mistakes in the reports are not improbable. Luckily for the buyers both Carfax and AutoCheck offer a buyback guarantee. So, if you buy a car based on their report and it turns out to be incorrect, they’ll buy the car from you at full price.

While the reliability of vehicle history reports is not questionable per se, you don’t want to make them the deciding factor when buying a car. They are more of a starting point. You need to check the car in person and check it thoroughly before buying. If you find any disparity in the car’s actual condition and what’s reflected on the report, just leave that car.

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