Why A Pre-Purchase Vehicle History Check Is ALWAYS A Good Idea

Buying a used car can be a daunting and intimidating task, particularly if you aren’t an industry insider, expert or big-time car enthusiast with lots of knowledge … but buying a used vehicle doesn’t have to be so intimidating if you are well-prepared.

There are some simple steps you can take to massively reduce the risk of buying a crap car, and getting a good deal on a nice vehicle instead. 

For example, once you’ve identified a make and model of car you want to purchase (whether that’s an ‘everyday’ car like a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic, or an exciting modern classic such as a Mitsubishi 3000GT/GTO) it’s important to learn what the known problems and pain points are for the particular car, and what you need to be wary of about that specific model. That is where our growing database of car buyer’s guides come in handy! 

You might also want to check owner forums/discussion boards, YouTube and even consider an ‘old school’ option such as a Haynes repair manual for older cars, to go into the inspection and negotiation process well-prepared to score a good car in great condition.

However, outside of physically inspecting the car for imperfections and mechanical problems, there is one consideration that we find buyers tend to overlook … and getting this wrong might be a bigger mistake than any mechanical issue you fail to spot. 

Why You MUST Do A Vehicle History Check

One essential step you should take before purchasing a pre-owned vehicle is to conduct a thorough vehicle history check. This can provide critical information about the car’s past, which, in turn, will help in making an informed decision.

A vehicle history check examines various databases and gathers information about a car’s background, such as accident history, odometer readings, recalls, and title/ownership status.

By reviewing this information, you can avoid purchasing a vehicle that may have hidden problems, while also confirming the car’s legal ownership and ensuring that you aren’t investing in a vehicle that may have been stolen or involved in serious accidents, or have some kind of other issue like a whole load of existing finance owing on it. 

By conducting a vehicle history check, buyers can save themselves the disappointment and potential financial pitfalls that may arise from purchasing a car with undisclosed issues. This precautionary measure can ultimately lead to a more satisfying and safer used car buying experience.

The Importance Of A Vehicle History Check

A vehicle history check is a crucial step when considering the purchase of a used car. It provides valuable insight into the car’s past, revealing potential issues and helping prospective buyers make an informed decision. This section will discuss the importance of conducting a thorough vehicle history check before buying a used car.

First and foremost, a vehicle history report can uncover hidden problems that might not be apparent at first glance and which aren’t necessarily determinable from a physical inspection of the car – no matter how much of an eagle eye you have. 

Examples of these issues include:

  • Accidents and damage sustained by the vehicle.
  • Title problems, such as liens or salvage titles (depending on where you live, there might be different names or terminology used. For example I’ve seen people in the UK refer to a ‘Cat D’ write off car, which is not a term used here in New Zealand)
  • Odometer fraud or rollback, particularly for used imports e.g. ex-JDM cars.
  • Service and maintenance recalls in some circumstances – even reliable Toyotas have recalls from time to time, and you’ll want to determine if any required recall work has been done and whether or not there are any outstanding recalls .
  • In jurisdictions with regular vehicle safety/compliance checks (such as NZ with the WoF system) you can see quickly if the car has a history of failing these checks, which might tell you the car is a potential lemon.
  • Vehicle theft and other legal issues that might affect your purchase.

By identifying these concerns in advance, you can avoid purchasing a car with significant problems or invest in necessary repairs.

Skip this step, and you could find yourself in an unpleasant situation such as discovering that there is still money owing on the car, and because you are the new legal owner you are on the hook for the delinquent finance that the deadbeat previous owner didn’t pay. 

Additionally, a vehicle history check can often provide information about the car’s ownership history. This data allows buyers to:

  1. Verify the number of previous owners
  2. Obtain information on how the car was used (e.g., rental, fleet, or personal use)
  3. Confirm the car’s registration status

This information can help buyers understand how well the vehicle was maintained and if it has been involved in any illegal activities, ensuring a better purchase decision.

Finally, conducting a vehicle history check can provide buyers with important safety and recall information. By researching safety ratings, crash test results, and recall history, buyers can:

  1. Choose a safe and reliable car (this is particularly important if you are looking to buy an everyday/daily driver car – 
  2. Ensure that all necessary repairs and recalls have been addressed
  3. Make a well-informed decision when purchasing a used vehicle

In conclusion, a vehicle history check is an essential part of purchasing a used car, as it allows buyers to uncover hidden issues, verify ownership history, and ensure a safe and reliable purchase.

Uncovering Potential Issues With A Vehicle History Check

Performing a vehicle history check before purchasing a used car can save you from a myriad of potential issues. It’s honestly just as important as doing a thorough pre-purchase inspection of the car to identify panel damage, mechanical problems and ascertain overall condition.

This section will discuss the importance of understanding the car’s accident history, mileage discrepancies, and title problems.

Accident History

Knowing a vehicle’s accident history is crucial when considering a used car. A vehicle history report will provide information about any accidents the car has been involved in, as well as the extent of the damage.

This can also reveal if any repairs were made, whether they were done professionally, and what parts were replaced. Understanding this history will help a buyer make an informed decision about the car’s condition and long-term reliability.

Mileage Discrepancies

Mileage discrepancies can be a red flag when purchasing a used car. A vehicle history report can help you identify any inconsistencies in the car’s reported mileage, indicating potential tampering or discrepancies in odometer readings. It is essential to make sure the mileage matches the overall condition and documentation of the vehicle.

Identifying these discrepancies can save you from purchasing a car with a falsified mileage reading, which can significantly impact the vehicle’s value and performance over time.

Title Problems

Title problems can create significant issues when buying a used car. A vehicle history report can indicate if a car has ever had a salvaged, rebuilt, or flood-damaged title. These titles indicate a variety of potential problems in the car’s history, which could affect its longevity, performance, and overall value.

An accurate understanding of the car’s title and ownership history can prevent purchasing a vehicle with hidden problems, saving you from costly surprises and headaches down the road.

Verifying Ownership and Legal Matters

Before purchasing a used car, you should always verify the vehicle’s ownership history and any potential legal issues. If you only take one message away from reading this article, let it be that. 

This step is crucial to ensure a smooth and problem-free transaction. In this section, we will discuss the importance of ownership verification, checking for outstanding liens, and ensuring the vehicle has not been reported stolen.

Ownership Verification

Confirming the ownership history of a used vehicle helps the buyer gain a clear understanding of the car’s past. It can reveal details such as the number of previous owners and any title discrepancies. Checking ownership is essential in preventing the purchase of a vehicle with an inconsistent title, which may cause problems with registration and insurance.

A potential buyer can obtain a vehicle history report from companies like Carfax or AutoCheck to review the ownership timeline. Some websites also offer title search services, allowing people to input the VIN and verify ownership information.

Outstanding Liens/Finance Owing

Outstanding liens on a used vehicle can lead to additional financial burdens if they are not addressed prior to the transaction. A lien is a legal claim on the car, usually due to unpaid debts or obligations. If the buyer purchases a car with an existing lien, they become responsible for the debt.

For shame, I’d never actually heard the term ‘lien’ until I somehow stumbled down the rabbit hole of watching Dave Ramsey YouTube clips (he’s always going on about lien this and that, in that great accent of his).

Lien is not a commonly used term in New Zealand, but the same principle applies – if you buy a car from a private seller or unlicensed motor vehicle dealer that has outstanding finance and that finance isn’t cleared, once you become the legal owner the finance company can pursue you and repossess the vehicle as they still have the legal claim on the car. Depending on where you live, dealers might even be able to sell cars with outstanding finance and not have to tell you, and the last thing you want is to wind up having a car you thought you had the legal right to enjoy in an unencumbered fashion being whisked away on the repo man’s towtruck because some other bum didn’t pay the finance company or sold you a car having told you there was “no money owing” (never believe that unless you can see written, certified proof). 

Vehicle history reports can provide information on any current liens, helping the buyer avoid complications down the road. In some cases, manual investigation at the local DMV might be necessary to ensure no hidden liens exist.

Stolen Vehicle Check

Performing a stolen vehicle check is another essential step in the process of buying a used car. This prevents the buyer from inadvertently purchasing a stolen car, which could lead to criminal charges or loss of the vehicle if reclaimed by the original owner.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) provides a free VINCheck service, allowing anyone to check if a vehicle has been reported stolen. Additionally, vehicle history reports may also include information on stolen vehicle claims, providing extra assurance for a potential purchase.

Financial Benefits

Performing a vehicle history check before buying a used car can offer numerous financial benefits, ranging from the absolutely obvious bonus of avoiding a terrible lemon of a car through to giving you negotiating leverage.

Negotiating Price

Knowing a vehicle’s history allows prospective buyers to assess its actual worth, empowering them to negotiate a fair price. By obtaining details about accidents, title issues, or mileage inconsistencies, buyers can present valid concerns to the seller.

  • Accidents: A history of accidents may affect the car’s structural integrity, safety, and resale value, providing grounds for price negotiation.
  • Title issues: A branded title, such as lemon or salvage, may indicate a non-stellar history and potential problems, which can be used during price negotiation.
  • Mileage inconsistencies: If the odometer shows discrepancies, the car’s actual wear and tear might be different than stated, influencing its overall value.

When armed with this information, buyers can negotiate for a reasonable deal with confidence.

Avoiding Costly Repairs

With a thorough vehicle history check, hidden problems can be uncovered before they lead to expensive repairs. Avoiding costly issues is a significant financial benefit, as the following examples demonstrate:

Hidden IssuePotential Cost
Flood damageExtensive repairs or even replacement of the vehicle
Undisclosed accidentsStructural repairs, malfunctioning safety systems, and decreased resale value
RecallsUnexpected out-of-pocket expenses if the recall was not addressed

By identifying issues before purchase, buyers can avoid these potential costs, making a vehicle history check an essential component of smart used car shopping.

Finding a Trustworthy Seller

When searching for a used car, finding a trustworthy seller is crucial. It reduces the risk of purchasing a vehicle with hidden problems or a questionable history. There are several ways to ensure you are dealing with a reliable seller.

First, consider working with reputable dealerships. These establishments typically have strict guidelines and evaluate the vehicles they sell carefully. Inquire about any certifications the dealership may have, such as being a member of a recognized industry organization.

Another approach is to ask for recommendations from friends, family, or colleagues who have purchased used cars. Their positive experiences can lead you to a reliable seller.

When dealing with private sellers, it’s essential to remain cautious. While not all private sellers are untrustworthy, some may try to hide information to make a quick sale. Asking the right questions and requesting necessary documentation can help you assess a seller’s reliability.

  • Ask for the vehicle’s service history and maintenance records to verify its upkeep.
  • Request a copy of the vehicle history report to uncover any past issues or accidents.
  • Find out how many owners the car has had and why it is being sold.

Additionally, pay attention to the seller’s communication manner. A trustworthy seller should be transparent, responsive, and willing to address any concerns you may have.

How to Perform a Vehicle History Check

Performing a vehicle history check before purchasing a used car is crucial to understand the past ownership, accidents, and maintenance records. This section details the steps to follow while conducting a comprehensive vehicle history check.

Obtaining the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

The first step in performing a vehicle history check is obtaining the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the car. A VIN is a unique 17-character code assigned to each vehicle, acting as a fingerprint for identifying its history.

Some common locations for finding the VIN are:

  • The driver’s side dashboard, visible through the windshield
  • The driver’s side door jamb
  • The vehicle’s insurance card or registration documents

Using Vehicle History Check Services

There are various online services available for conducting a vehicle history check using the VIN number and or licence/registration plate on a car.

Garage Dreams attracts a fairly international audience, so rather than linking any specific resource in this article I’d suggest that you go and do some research on potential providers that operate in your area.

In some markets you might be able to access information for free (sometimes by piecing it together from multiple databases and sources) or you might wish to pay for a professional vehicle history check from a company like Car Vertical or Car Jam – the most popular choice in my home market of New Zealand.

Paid vehicle history reports are usually rather affordable – especially compared to the potentially horrendous cost of buying a previously written off car or one with a whole load of finance owing – and typically provide information on the following aspects:

  • Ownership history
  • Accident history
  • Mileage records
  • Service and maintenance records
  • Recalls and safety concerns
  • Salvage, flood, or theft history

Considering how quickly you can usually get the information you need using something like a Car Vertical vehicle history check, it’s well worth paying the price. However, also feel free to use free resources where they are available … the main thing is you do something to satisfy yourself on the ownership history and legal status of a car you’d like to buy. 


Performing a vehicle history check before purchasing a used car is a crucial step in the buying process. It protects the buyer (aka you – the person putting their money on the line) from potential problems and risks associated with the vehicle’s past.

A vehicle history report provides valuable information such as past ownership, accident history, and maintenance records. This data enables the buyer to make a well-informed decision on whether to proceed with the purchase or not. Using the data and insight from a pre-purchase history check in conjunction with actually inspection the car/paying for a trusted third party inspection if buying remotely gives you the best possible protection. 

Additionally, obtaining a vehicle history report can save the buyer from unexpected costs or legal issues resulting from the car’s history. By conducting a thorough check, you can avoid purchasing a stolen or salvaged vehicle or one with finance owing, ensuring peace of mind and less risk of legal headaches. 

In conclusion, a vehicle history check is a vital component of the used car buying process, empowering the buyer with essential information and mitigating risks. A well-informed decision leads to a safer and more satisfying purchase.


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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