Vehicle History Report
Buyer Tips Used Cars

Understanding Vehicle History Reports and How to Interpret Them

By Daisy Emah-Emah Posted: 09/07/2023

In the large world of used cars, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of options. You may find a vehicle that looks great on the outside, but what lies beneath the surface can be a mystery. That’s where vehicle history reports come in, serving as your trusty compass on the journey of buying a used car. 

In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into understanding vehicle history reports, decoding the significance of VIN information, and using these reports to make informed decisions that will keep you on the right track.

carfax report

The Significance of Vehicle History Reports

Imagine you’re considering buying a used car. It’s clean, shiny, and seems perfect in every way. But what if that car had a troubled past? Maybe it was involved in an accident, suffered from flood damage, or was even stolen and recovered. These hidden skeletons in the car’s closet can haunt you long after you drive it off the lot.

This is where vehicle history reports step in. They are like the car’s biography, offering a detailed account of its life so far. These reports are compiled from various sources, such as government records, insurance companies, and service centers, and they can provide critical information about the car’s past.

Key information you can find in a vehicle history report includes:

  • Accident History: Any reported accidents, including the severity and extent of the damage.
  • Title Information: Whether the car has a clean title, has been salvaged, or has a rebuilt title.
  • Odometer Readings: A record of recorded mileage over time to detect any potential odometer fraud.
  • Ownership History: The number of previous owners and their history with the vehicle.
  • Service Records: Maintenance and repair history, helping you gauge how well the car has been maintained.
  • Recalls and Lemon History: Information on recalls and lemon law buybacks.

How to Interpret VIN Information

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is your key to unlocking a car’s history. It’s a unique 17-digit code that acts like the car’s DNA, containing vital information about its make, model, year, and more. Understanding the VIN is crucial when interpreting a vehicle history report.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can learn from the VIN

  • Country of Origin: The first digit of the VIN represents the country where the car was manufactured.
  • Vehicle Type: The fourth through eighth digits provide information about the car’s engine type, series, and body style.
  • Model Year: The ninth digit represents the model year.
  • Plant Code: The tenth digit signifies the manufacturing plant where the car was assembled.
  • Production Number: Digits 11 through 17 are the production sequence number, unique to each car.

By understanding the VIN, you can cross-reference the information in the report to ensure it matches the car’s actual history, helping you spot any discrepancies or red flags.

Using Reports to Make Informed Decisions

Now that you know the significance of vehicle history reports and how to decode VIN information, let’s explore how you can use this knowledge to make informed decisions when buying a used car.

1. Screen Potential Cars 

Before even visiting a dealership or arranging a private sale, obtain a vehicle history report for any vehicle you’re considering. This initial step can save you time and help you narrow down your options.

2. Verify Information

Check that the VIN on the vehicle matches the VIN in the report. Look for inconsistencies in the report, such as conflicting accident information or discrepancies in mileage.

3. Evaluate the Report

Pay close attention to any red flags in the report, such as a salvage title or a history of severe accidents. These may be deal-breakers or could help you negotiate a better price.

4. Seek Professional Inspection

Even if the vehicle history report is clean, it’s wise to have a trusted mechanic inspect the car. They can uncover issues that may not be visible in the report.

5. Negotiate with Confidence 

Armed with the knowledge from the vehicle history report and the inspection, you can confidently negotiate the price and terms, ensuring you’re getting a fair deal.


Vehicle history reports are your essential tool for navigating the used car market. They provide a window into a car’s past, helping you make informed decisions and avoid potential pitfalls. 

By understanding the significance of these reports, decoding VIN information, and using them to your advantage, you’ll be well-equipped to find the perfect used car that fits both your budget and your peace of mind. 

Happy car hunting!