Deciphering a vehicle history report

rebuilt carThanks to computers and the internet, we have instant access to data. It would’ve taken weeks to obtain ownership information in the 1970’s. Letters would have to be written, file cabinets would cough up information, then typewriters would smudge out a response. All you really had to rely on back then was the seller’s word. But now you can browse a vehicle’s entire history on your smart phone. My, how things have changed.

For a nominal fee, you can download the entire ownership history of a vehicle, using just the VIN number. But there’s lots of information contained in a vehicle history report. So let’s look at the most important info, and discover what it means for you.

Ownership History

Here is where you’ll find the number of owners that a particular vehicle has had. But what’s really important is the type of owner. A ‘Personal’ owner is just what it sounds like; An average Joe, buying himself a car. A ‘corporate’ owner on the other hand, could signal rental, or fleet usage. And you know how careful most vacationers/employees are with their loaners.

Another thing you need to look for is registration in multiple states. Particularly, states in snow-country, or cities along the coast. Road salt, and sea water can cause rust, and that can be expensive to repair. Should you run into a Jeep that was registered in Daytona Beach, or a pickup from Chicago. You may want to have the undercarriage checked for rust.

If your vehicle history report contains a detailed ownership history, read through the information to discover things like repair history, recall fixes, and accident details. You may discover that the car was involved in an accident, or maybe the engine was replaced at some point. Either way, you’ll be able to learn a lot about the car’s life.


Both CarFax and AutoCheck vehicle history reports allow you to see if a vehicle has a Salvage / Rebuilt title. This means that the vehicle was at some point wrecked, then ‘Totalled out’ by the insurance company. Although many wrecked vehicles can be repaired and driven safely, you’ve got to be sure that the repair work was performed correctly, and most importantly, the price should reflect the title situation.

If you come upon such a vehicle, simply have it inspected to be sure the repairs were performed correctly. And if you notice that the vehicle had its Rebuilt Title transferred to another state without the ‘Rebuilt’ branding, be cautious on that car. Most reputable rebuilders will tell you upfront that the vehicle has been wrecked. Therefore, they won’t need to hide the title branding.

Loan / Lien Reported: It’s quite common to see a loan or lien on a vehicle’s title. But if you plan to buy such a car from a private buyer, you need to be sure that the lien has been satisfied, and the owner has sufficient documentation to prove that the loan has been paid off. Otherwise, you’ll have a car that you can’t register, and a loan company that’ll hold the paperwork hostage, until somebody pays off the loan.

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