Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Understanding Vehicle History Reports

Almost everyone has seen the little fox on TV.  The cute and cuddly guy is a memorable and effective marketing tool for the company he represents.  The truth is that there are a number of other companies that provide Vehicle History Reports to car shoppers.  Which company you should use isn't something we will get into here.  As long as the company has access to the correct vehicle data, the choice is yours.

So where does all this vehicle information come from?  

The vast majority of the information comes from the (deep breath) National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, or NMVTIS for short.  What is NMVTIS?  As their website states:

"The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is an electronic system that provides consumers with valuable information about a vehicle's condition and history. Prior to purchasing a vehicle, NMVTIS allows consumers to find information on the vehicle's title, most recent odometer reading, brand history, and, in some cases, historical theft data."  

How does the NMVTIS get the vehicle information?

This is where the Good and the Bad of Vehicle History Reports comes in.

The Good:  The NMVTIS gets it's information from a variety of sources.  State agencies, insurance companies, repair shops, vehicle auctions, salvage yards and any other source that meets NMVTIS standards.  This makes for a very large pool of information sources.
The Bad:  The NMVTIS relies on these outside sources to report all of the vehicle information they provide.  This means for instance, that if a repair shop that rebuilds a vehicle damaged from a crash does not report the repair to the NMVTIS, then that repair will not show up on any Vehicle History Report.  If that same repair shop does report the repair but incorrectly reports the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), then not only would the repair not show up for that vehicle, but it may show up on another vehicle's history report in error.

So how much should I rely on Vehicle History Reports?

Even with the possibility of errors or missing information, Vehicle History Reports are an important part of the car buying process.  They give you, the buyer, a starting point when you find a car you are interested in purchasing.  You will see whether the car has been driven in snow states or in warm weather.  You will see how many owners it has had.  You will also see the car's history of emissions tests.  This is all valuable information in terms of whether you want take the next step in the purchase process or if you choose to find a different vehicle.

If a Vehicle History Report does show that a vehicle has been in an accident or has had repairs, don't automatically rule it out.  Have the vehicle checked out by a qualified mechanic to verify that the vehicle was, in fact, repaired as stated in the report and if so, that the vehicle was repaired properly.  Whether the vehicle checks out or not, you can then make a more informed purchase decision.

There is no easy answer and no single source of information when buying a used vehicle.  But the more information you have, the more likely you are to purchase the car of your dreams, not a nightmare of a lemon.  Vehicle History Reports are an important source of this information, as long as you understand exactly what they are, where the information comes from, and how to properly use them.

For more information on the NMVTIS, Vehicle History Reports and qualified service providers, please visit

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