Great deal or nightmare on wheels? How to check a vehicle's history before purchase

Consumer Reports recommends vehicle history reports, mechanic's inspection

By Marilyn Moritz - Reporter

Buying a used car can be a great way to get the most for your money, but because that car has a past, it can also turn into a nightmare on wheels.

To reduce your risk of making a bad buy, Consumer Reports recommends getting a vehicle history report and a thorough, independent inspection.

When John Perry bought his used Ford Taurus with only 9,000 miles on it, he thought it was a steal of a deal. But the car ultimately began to show rust, making Perry suspicious of the vehicle's past.

A quick search on Carfax, an online vehicle history report company, turned up information Perry wishes he'd known – the auto had been a rental car for seven months before he bought it.

Before you buy a used car, Consumer Reports recommend you get a vehicle history report from a source such as Carfax or Autocheck.

"When you are buying used, it's important to know what that history is,” said Consumer Reports’ auto expert Jennifer Stockburger. "Was it in a flood? Was it a rental car? (These are) details that may change your mind about buying it."

After checking the history and going on a test drive, CR recommends you get any used car inspected by an independent, trusted mechanic, which should cost between $100 and $200.

"They can be a better indicator of the car’s history and where it’s at today," Stockburger said.

It is important to find out about vehicle recalls.

Vehicle history reports generally include the recalls, but drivers can also get recall information for free through

Those interested can also get a free VINCheck report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau to see whether a car has been reported stolen or declared as salvage.

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