Aaron Widmar
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How Are Vehicle History Reports Compiled?

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How vehicle data is obtained and where it comes from

male car salesman holding used car paperwork

When buying a used car, it’s crucial that you check its vehicle history report before sealing the deal. That account can tell you a lot of secrets about the vehicle that simply looking at the car itself wouldn’t reveal, such as accident history, flood damage, or title issues.

Where do companies like CARFAX and AutoCheck get their information on cars, and how is that data compiled?

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The importance of a car’s VIN for tracking vehicle history

According to DMV.org, Vehicle history reports rely heavily on a particular source for tracking data: a vehicle’s identification number, or VIN. This 17-character “fingerprint” is unique on every single car. Every time a police report, insurance claim, repair paperwork, or sale transaction is performed involving a vehicle, its VIN is noted and the information logged. 

Thus, by running a VIN check, searchers can look for a car’s VIN throughout many databases, including the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, insurance records, auto dealership files, repair garage logs, law enforcement systems, and even salvage auction records.

Across these databases, a wealth of insight can be obtained on a car’s odometer readings, title, collisions, previous owners, maintenance history, travels, emissions, and more.

However, not every incident is necessarily reported and thus wouldn’t show up on a VIN check or vehicle history report. While these records aren’t guaranteed to be 100 percent complete, they can typically provide enough insight into the car’s background to know if it’s a reliable purchase to make.

Later on, these records can be amended if you obtain sufficient information — for instance, on a fender bender that didn’t result in an insurance claim or non-private repairs.

Even if you do obtain a detailed vehicle history report, make sure you still have the car inspected by a skilled mechanic. Having a clean title and history doesn’t necessarily guarantee the car doesn’t have problems.

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