Checking out a used car for less than $10

One of the biggest complaints to any consumer hotline I’ve ever worked with deals with car problems. People buy used cars and find out they are full of problems. Sometimes the problems start soon after driving off the lot. Consumers are often left with no recourse because they bought the car as is.

Have a mechanic inspect it

Before you buy any used car, have your own mechanic check it out. It’s worth it to pay $75 to have a mechanic inspect the car. Repairs are expensive, so if there’s a problem and you find it after you drive it off the lot it will cost you more than $75.

National Motor Vehicle Title Information Service (NMVTIS)
There are all kinds of vehicle history reports you can buy, and some are better than others.

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is a federal database that tracks the titles of cars. For a small fee, often less than ten dollars you can find out if the car’s last odometer reading and if the car was junked, salvaged, flooded, or rebuilt.

The electronic database was created to cut down on fraud, prevent stolen cars from being re-sold, and protect consumers from unsafe cars.

While all states are supposed to report to NMVTIS, two are not including Kansas. NMVTIS reports that 87% of the vehicle population in the United States is in the database.

The NMVTIS report is concise. It will not give you a clear picture of the car, but is the bare minimum you should get when buying a car.

There are three companies that offer NMVTIS reports:
Auto Data Direct – $4.95

CARCO Group d/b/a “Check That Vin” – $3.50

Mobiletrac d/b/a InstaVIN – $2.99 – 6.99

InstaVIN says it also offers accident data, and has all kinds of trial offers. Make sure you know exactly what you are ordering and what the full charge will cost you.

Other reports
Separate from NMVTIS, there are other reports like a CARFAX or Auto Check. Don’t totally rely on these reports. They are always only as good as the data feeding them.

CARFAX pulls from over 34,000 data sources and charges $34.99 for its report. Included in this report may be odometer readings, title information including salvaged or junked titles, flood damage history, accident history, lemon history, number of owners, service records, state emission inspection results, accident indicators like airbag deployments, and if the vehicle was leased or rented.

AutoCheck costs $29.99 and is a division of Experian. There are a variety or sub-reports included within this report, and you can review sample reports by clicking here. The reports include a score that tells you the risk you’ll have in buying the car, if the car’s been used as a service vehicle or rental car, odometer readings, and information on the title like if its been junked or salvaged, emissions inspections, and vehicle registrations.

You just need the VIN to run most of these reports. Remember, these reports are only as good as the data feeding them. I have done stories where consumers have bought a vehicle and the report showed it was not in an accident. Upon resale several years later, the accident showed in the report. It all depends on what data sources feed the report, and these agencies are constantly adding new data.

To save yourself money, ask your dealer to provide the report as part of his service.

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Vehicle reliability

It’s also a good idea to “Google” your car “year” and “make” along with “and problems” to see if there are major issues with that model year car. You should take some of the complaints with a grain of salt, because these days people make all their complaints public for better or worse.

The more reliable gauge should be the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, Safercar. This is a database of consumer complaints, defect investigations, and recalls. It’s common for there to be lots of complaints about various parts to your car. I’d say that if you see hundreds of complaints about one problem, then you may think twice about the car or ask a reliable mechanic if they’ve seen that problem in that model year car. To understand how to consume this data, search the complaints for your current car. You’ll notice many complaints and you may or may not be experiencing these. Just because a consumer has a problem with a part of the car doesn’t mean every car is impacted.

If there is a defect investigation or the car, I’d have that part of the car carefully checked. That’s usually the step before a recall is issued.

If there is a recall, make sure the recalled item is fixed.

In the end, take time to make your decision. Weigh all information carefully. Don’t let anyone rush you into the purchase.

You may feel better about the purchase if you can get the dealer to offer you a warranty. Under most state laws, used cars are not necessarily sold with a warranty. You may ask for a 30 day warranty. A reputable dealer will likely offer you this if they have nothing to hide. If it’s offered, get it in writing and make sure none of the paperwork says “As Is.”

Related links you may like:
Click here to learn how to get action on a car complaint
Click here to find a reputable mechanic


5 thoughts on “Checking out a used car for less than $10

  1. .instavin was worthless. I needed to check info on one of my vehicles, but it came back with less than I already knew. Report was missing serious info, and no accidents (one was county vehicle with major repair) and another listed mileage as 29,000 a year after I bought it, when I bought the car with 85,000+. This was a complete waste of money. I will only use carfax for now on, it’s worth the extra money.


  2. I really appreciate consumer advocates and watchdog organizations. Thank you for your service. I’m a teacher in Winthrop Harbor, a tiny village in Illinois, and I will be using this information in my town.


  3. is a SCAM
    avoid at all cost.
    I tried to retrieve a report of a BMW M3 1998 that was offered for sale on the eBay. I paid with credit card and all I got was 1 page pdf file with the most ridiculous information ever.

    I’m disputing the charge tomorrow with my CHASE Freedom card and filing a complaint against these scammers.
    This was the whole report that I received from Check That VIN:

    information from NMVTIS as of 02/25/2014 19:12
    Title Brand Records 0
    Junk and Salvage Records 0
    Insurer “Total” Records 0

    Title Issue Date 01/28/2014
    Odometer EXEMPT
    Please note: The odometer reading provided is as of the titling date and does not represent the current odometer reading.

    From page 2 to page 7 it was all BS, a bunch of fine prints and legal disclaimer! I can’t F* believe this ūüė¶
    Rogue companies who SCAM honest people for a living… and for what? 3 USD?? You get what you pay for..


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