Always Get A Vehicle History Report Before Purchasing a Used Car

Interviewer: What is the one piece of advice you would give about purchasing a used car in Michigan?

Andrew Campbell:  Get a vehicle history report.  there’s no warranty on it, so if you’re going to go buy a used a car, you’ve got to take certain measures.  One, it is important to request a CARFAX or an AutoCheck prior to purchase.

In Michigan most used cars do not come with a warranty. That is why it is so important to understand a vehicle’s history.

Most people have heard of carfax and autocheck. But there are a lot of vin history services on the internet. You can often even find pictures of the vehicle after it was in a wreck.

Think about it as an investment. If you are willing to risk tens of thousands of dollars on a purchase of a used car then you should be willing to invest less than $100.00 to verify a vehicle’s history.

Recently new competitors have entered the scene that make this type of decision a complete no-brainer.  For example, this service offers a free vehicle history check.

Many vehicles that you see on used car lots come from auto auctions. While that is not automatically a terrible thing, many vehicles sold at auto auctions were formally repossessed or were used as rentals.

Repossessed vehicles are risky because there could be damage to the vehicle due to the repossession. Additionally, cars formally used as rentals were probably not treated very well.

The key information will be whether the vehicle had been in any accidents in the past. If see an accident and an insurance company declare the vehicle a total loss you will want to be very careful.

Also if you see any insurance related auctions you will know that the owner of the vehicle had previously filed a claim with their insurance company.

Sometimes these vehicles are purchased directly by used car dealers and not properly repaired. If the vehicle has been in an accident chances are that the air-bags were deployed.

So if you have purchased a vehicle and are now suddenly finding out that it was in an accident you might consider spending money on an inspection to see if the repairs were properly performed.

Most likely these vehicles have been in an accident. You will want to move on to another vehicle to be safe.

So key facts to think of when looking at a VIN history:

  1. How many accidents has the vehicle been involved in?
  2. Was the vehicle sold soon after the accident?
  3. How many miles was put on the vehicle after the accident before it was transferred?
  4. In what state did the accident occur (some states have very strict salvage title laws)
  5. How many states has the vehicle been titled in since the event or accident?

The last question is very important. There are some states that have strict laws. For example, eleven states issue salvage titles to stolen Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma and Oregon.

So if you see your vehicle as having been titled in any of these states, you should be weary. Used car dealers love to hide the history of a vehicle by title washing.

Sending it to different states helps allow dealers to wash the title.

Have an independent licensed mechanic inspect any car you are intending to buy?

Sometimes you can find cars that have been previously destroyed.  These were once titled as rebuilt or salvage vehicles, and then repaired and used and sold again.  I have heard of situations years ago where the client bought a certified-used 1999 vehicle from a dealer.

She drove it for years. Only after a minor accident was it revealed that the car was actually made up of two different cars. The front half was a 1999 and the back half was a 1998.

The car had been welded together. Somehow the brilliant mechanics who had supposedly conducted an inspection on the vehicle not seen the weld marks that I am told would have been obvious to any mechanic.

It was welded together and it was sold as a certified used car.  Any mechanic who would put that car up on a hoist would have seen the weld marks.

That is why my second piece of advice is to have a mechanic inspect any vehicle you intend to buy. It is worth the $100-$200.00 charge for a mechanic to inspect and drive the vehicle.

Buy a vehicle privately and not from a used car dealer

Everyone knows the one person rule. Always try and buy a vehicle with one owner. You won’t know this without verifying it with a VIN history report of course.

Be very aware of curbstoners working in Michigan. These are guys who fix up cars and sell them to individuals. In Michigan you must be a licensed dealer if you buy five or more cars in one year.

Licensed dealers have to have licensed business locations.

Curbstoners always work from home. They cause trouble because they constantly have vehicles in their driveway and out front that they are working on. This can cause trouble in some neighborhoods.

You will be able to spot these guys in a number of ways.

First, if you are interested in a vehicle ask to look at the title. You only want to buy from an individual if the vehicle is titled in their name.

If they claim that that person is a relative of theirs then take a look at the drivers license of the seller to verify the last name. If they claim that their relative has a different last name then proceed with caution.

Second, many curbstones advertise on craigslist. Search craigslist ads for the sellers phone number to see if he comes up repeatedly. Obviously anyone selling more than one vehicle in a given year could be a curbstoner.

Third, make sure to run your vehicle history reports and bring them with you. Ask some questions about the vehicle’s history and check the answers against what they tell you. If you catch them in a lie you might want to go elsewhere.

Fourth, ask for receipts for services performed on the car. Did they change the oil frequently? Were fluids changed on a regular basis?

Fifth, make sure the seller shows you his license. Run that person’s name in google to check if there are any online complaints.

Sixth, have the mechanic check the engine to see if it is consistent with the mileage on the vehicle.

A used car is one of the largest purchases a person will make in their lifetime. Getting a copy of a vehicle history report can help protect that investment. Because Michigan does not allow consumers much protection, it is vital to conduct diligence on a vehicle before purchasing it.