How to Use a “Vehicle History Report” and a “History and Condition Report” When Buying a Car Online

How to Use a ‘Vehicle History Report’ and a ‘History and Condition Report’ to Make a Wise Used Car Purchase


Sometimes you hear great stories of a used car purchase gone perfectly right. A person buys a used car or truck – saves a ton of money – and the vehicle runs well for the duration of ownership. The well thought out purchase came after a great deal of research where the car buyer informed him or herself thoroughly by doing the proper research and by waiting until both the time was right, and the perfect vehicle became available. Well done!

Unfortunately, there are also used car or truck buying horror stories. The vehicle may have been sold under false pretences, was not all that it was made out to be, and ended up being a money pit of constant repair bills and time in the mechanics shop. Maybe the seller misrepresented the vehicle, or maybe the buyer just didn’t do his or her homework, but for whatever reason, the car ended up being a nightmare.

The question is: how do you ensure that the first scenario – the one where the used car or truck purchase worked out perfectly – is the one that you will experience when you go to buy your next used vehicle? The answer to that question is actually more simple than you may think – history and condition reports.


Did you know that, by law, every car or truck manufactured in North America is required to put a 17 digit serial code – referred to as a Vehicle Identification Number, or ‘VIN’ – right on the dashboard or driver’s side door jamb (a door jamb is the inside portion of the driver’s side door, usually where the tire pressure sticker is located)? This is done for a few reasons: to help the police track stolen vehicles, to allow motor vehicle authorities track and record vehicle history, to log and record major vehicle service or maintenance that was preformed as the result of an accident, to log flood or other major environmental damage, to record title or ownership changes, and much more.

Using the VIN, you can find out a lot about the past history of a vehicle. There are several major companies that have made a business out using VINs to provide accurate third party data on vehicle history. For a reasonable fee, you can purchase a vehicle history report from one of these companies. By providing them with the 17 digit VIN, they can pull up all sorts of information on a vehicle – usually, only cars and trucks – that you may be interested in purchasing. This report can be the determinant in terms of whether or not you choose to pursue the vehicle.

The vehicle history report, however, is not a perfect tool. There are many cases where critical information may be missing from a history report. For example, if a vehicle was in an accident that was not reported to the authorities, the repairs would not show up on a vehicle history report. This is fairly commonplace – the drivers involved in an accident agree to deal with the repairs privately so as not to increase their insurance rates.

Just like there are companies that have made a business out of providing vehicle history data, there are also individuals who have made a living out of hiding or covering up such details. These immoral and unethical people are commonly referred to as ‘curbsiders’. A curbsider is a person who makes a living out of selling used vehicles that may be stolen, reconditioned, or have had their VINs or odometers interfered with. They often misrepresent themselves as a private seller looking to ‘sell their family vehicle’ or as a person who is ‘moving overseas and needs to sell their vehicle quickly’. Unfortunately, used car buyers need to be wary of such individuals, and a vehicle history report may or may not be a powerful enough tool to protect them.


Above and beyond a third party vehicle history report, another solution to protect you when buying a used vehicle is by searching for vehicles online from sites that promote the full disclosure of information. There are a select few sites (see the links at the bottom of this article) that you can use to shop for vehicles where the developers have built their site around the provision of information so as to keep you as informed as possible about the used cars or trucks that you are shopping for.

On these types of sites, sellers are encouraged to partake in full transparency when it comes to selling their vehicle. Although sellers can simply omit details that may not be ‘favourable’ to them selling the vehicle, buyers now have two tools: the provision of information right off the site/the individual vehicle ad, and the ability to buy a third party vehicle history report to cross reference such details.

Now, buyers can compare and contrast information from the site and from the vehicle history report. If the site noted that the vehicle had never been in an accident but the vehicle history report showed it had, you’ll probably want to stay away from it altogether. Conversely, if the site noted that the vehicle had been in an accident and the history reported indicated that it hadn’t, you may also want o stay away – in this instance, the seller has disclosed that it was in an accident that was never reported to authorities (hence its absence from the vehicle history report). You’ll never be able to accurately measure the damage caused by such an accident, and will instead have to rely on the word of the seller and a mechanic.


So, to protect yourself as much as possible, ALWAYS buy a vehicle history report for cars and trucks you are looking at. Some vehicle history report companies offer a more in-depth service for a slightly higher fee, but will provide you with unlimited VIN checking for a window of time, usually a week or two. This way, you can check multiple vehicles instead of on a pay-as-you-check basis.

If you are shopping for a car or truck online, you will also want to look at sites that are built around providing information. Even though the information may or may not be entirely accurate, at least you can contrast the provided information to the information garnered from the vehicle history report.

Happy shopping!