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Things to look for on a vehicle history report
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A vehicle history report can be a used car buyer's best friend. Whereas in the past buyers bought used cars and hoped for the best, today's used car buyers can rely on a vehicle history report to tell them all about the vehicle while helping buyers make more informed decisions.

When shopping for a preowned vehicle, you should always ask for a vehicle history report, regardless of whether you're buying from a dealership or a private citizen. If the seller refuses, it's time to look elsewhere. When a seller eagerly provides a vehicle history report, buyers should examine a few things on the report so they can be more comfortable should they ultimately purchase the vehicle.

* Number of previous owners: All vehicle history reports list how many owners a vehicle has had in the past. In general, the more owners a vehicle has had, the more risk you're assuming as the buyer. Vehicles that tend to change hands often are less likely to have been well maintained.

In addition to how many owners a car has had, look at who those owners were. Vehicles that were once owned by a rental car company, for instance, were likely not treated very well, as few people care how much abuse their rental car endures. However, a car once owned by a rental agency likely has lots of highway miles on it, and such driving is less taxing on a vehicle than city driving where the vehicle's engine is stopping and starting more frequently.

* Specifics: Just because a seller provides you with a vehicle history report does not necessarily mean that report matches up with the vehicle you might be buying. A dishonest seller might try to pass off the history report of another vehicle of the same make and model as his own. This is done to hide a suspect vehicle history or even when thieves are selling a stolen car to an unsuspecting buyer. Check the vehicle identification number, or VIN, on the vehicle to ensure the car you're looking at matches the car on the history report. In addition, each vehicle history report describes the car, so if the description does not match you might be holding an inaccurate report.

* Location: The vehicle history report will show where the car has lived over the years. Vehicles that have spent ample time in harsh weather, such as Alaska or another region with a prolonged winter, have likely had their share of weather-related wear and tear, more so than a car driven in warmer climates. While this does not mean past owners didn't properly maintain the car, some buyers might be wary of purchasing a vehicle that has endured too many harsh winters.

* Physical appearance: Does the physical appearance of the car match up with its history report? Sometimes a vehicle owner does not report when a car has been in an accident. Owners might do this to avoid higher insurance premiums or to mask the vehicle's history because they intend to sell the car down the road. If a car exhibits any signs of body work that aren't on its history report or if the car drives awkwardly but has supposedly not been in an accident, buyers should consider this a major red flag and strongly consider walking away from the vehicle and continuing their search elsewhere.

A vehicle history report can calm the fears of a buyer shopping for a preowned vehicle. But even when a report is made available, buyers should still examine the report closely to ensure the vehicle is all it's cracked up to be.