Used car buyers are always searching for a free vehicle history report…but does it really exist? Well, yes and no. You can get free history reports from some dealers online and off, but you can’t just enter the VIN of a vehicle you have found on your own and expect to get a full report of that particular vehicle…for that you’re going to have to pay.
The confusion lies in the fact that there is a “free” element to the research process. If you have the 17-character Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, there are a few sites where you can enter that number and learn some information about the car for free. Each letter and number stands for something, and what is often advertised as a free car history report is actually a VIN decoder.
The decoder will usually tell you the make, model, year, type of restraint system, body style, engine and the assembly plant. This information is useful, as it provides important information about the vehicle. As an example, the seller might tell you that it’s a 2004 Ford Taurus. But the VIN check might tell you that it is in fact a 2003 model. So you’ll know right away that this is not a deal you should proceed with, as the seller is not being truthful about the vehicle. If they are not being honest about the model itself, you can bet they won’t be revealing any hidden problems.
So the free vehicle history report is in essence the free decoding of the VIN to tell you exactly what type of car you are considering. If you want to find out more information, as most buyers do, such as hidden mechanical issues, odometer problems, mileage, fire damage, etc. then you need to order a complete report.
After your free car history check, you are given the option to purchase one complete vehicle history report or unlimited reports. If you just want to research one car, then you should opt for the single. If, like most buyers, you are looing at a number of different vehicles, you should opt for the unlimited reports, which in most cases allow you to research as many autos as you want within a certain period of time, usually 60 days.
The cost of these reports varies, but it is usually around $19.99 and $24.99 for the single and unlimited options, respectively. Although they are not free vehicle history reports, it is a small price to pay for peace of mind. If you think about it, paying $20 to avoid a vehicle that would have ended up costing you thousands of dollars in mechanical issues is definitely worth it in our opinion. Oftentimes a seller won’t tell you about a serious underlying problem, or he or she may not be aware of it. Even after test driving the car, you may not pick up on something…even trained mechanics miss things now and then. That’s why a car history report is so important.
So we learned that the free vehicle history report is not really free, at least the full report isn’t. But at only $20 to learn about the vehicle from the time it was first registered up until the last DMV transaction, it is well worth it. So if you’re in the market for a used car, make sure you get a history report before you buy…you’ll be glad you did!