Buying a used car can feel a bit like buying a lottery ticket: you never know if you’re going to win big or just be out of some money. Using a vehicle history service like CARFAX can help take some of the guesswork out of buying a used car, and give you confidence to choose the right one for you.

Using the unique 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN), which was standardized as the official I.D. for light trucks and cars in 1981, CARFAX is able to research a vehicle’s past. A typical CARFAX Vehicle History Report includes information about the vehicle’s title, which tells a buyer how many owners a car has had. It can also show accident history, maintenance and repair records, odometer readings and more. Knowing critical details about a car before you buy can help you avoid getting stuck with a bad one.

All of the information in a CARFAX Report is drawn from reliable sources such as police and fire department records, state motor vehicle records, auction records, service companies and consumer protection agencies. With billions of automobile records in its database, CARFAX can provide a detailed report for the used car you're considering. And while a CARFAX Report may not tell you everything that ever happened to a particular car, they can be valuable tools for a buyer in the market for a used car.

A CARFAX Report can provide the most accurate information for cars and light trucks made after 1981. Other types of vehicles, plus those made prior to 1981; do not have a standard of identification that allows CARFAX to generate a report.

How to Get a CARFAX Vehicle History Report

CARFAX Vehicle History Reports can be purchased on www.carfax.com using the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the specific car or truck you're interested in. (Tips on how to find the VIN)

Additionally, free CARFAX Reports can be found on thousands of online listings on sites and reputable used car dealers across the country also offer their customers free CARFAX Reports on vehicles they sell. Just say – “Show Me the CARFAX!”

How to Read a CARFAX Report

A CARFAX Vehicle History Report consists of two parts: a brief summary of the car's history followed by a detailed chronological listing of the reported events that occurred to the car.

The summary section at the top of a CARFAX Report is an overview of the most important information you need to know about the car. If there is an accident or title issue it will likely be shown in the summary section. The most recent odometer reading and number of service records are usually displayed in the summary section as well.

Highlights or issues that were called out in the summary section are fleshed out in the detail section of the CARFAX Report. For example, if the summary noted that an accident occurred, the detail section would explain that the vehicle was involved in a head-on collision on 10/31/2007 and sustained major damage. One thing to note: CARFAX Vehicle History Reports are based on official reports of accidents. These reports take time to be processed from the police and municipalities before CARFAX can access them so recent or unreported accidents may not be reflected by a CARFAX Report. In addition to checking the CARFAX Report, it’s smart to include an inspection by a qualified technician in your purchase process to make sure everything is in working order.

The detail section of the CARFAX Report will elaborate on title problems, for example, if the car has been declared a total loss by an insurance company or has been rebuilt from salvage. The report should also indicate if the car has significant issues such as frame damage, airbag deployment and odometer rollback. Expect problems in these categories to be flagged with a brief description.

Why Get a CARFAX Report

No one wants to be a sucker.

Probably the best argument of why an accurate auto history report is so important for prospective used car buyers is the idea of getting stuck with a “lemon.” Sellers are motivated to push the positive aspects of whatever they sell, but the desire to make a sale can tempt some to cross the line between good advertising and straight up lying.

A car's history shouldn’t be a mystery to an interested buyer. Accurate information about changes in ownership, major damage and mechanical problems is available to help buyers make an informed decision when buying a used vehicle.

A CARFAX Vehicle History Report is a valuable tool consumers can use to level the playing field between buyers and sellers. Equipped with reliable information gathered from manufacturers, insurance agencies, police records and official sources, a consumer can demand and receive a price that truly reflects the condition and value of a used car.