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10 Red Flags To Look Out For In a Used Car's History

red flag phrase in the carfax

Everyone knows that shopping for a used car is risky. The dealership wants to sell you a car no matter what. That means they might try to downplay or hide some potentially problematic issues with the vehicle you’re considering.

You have to understand how the history of a used car is laid out. It is possible to access more information than whatever the used car dealer is offering. History reports like CarFax can tell you a lot about a car.

But what should you look for?

carfax check list

What are the history-related red flags that you need to watch out for when purchasing a used car?

Read on to find out.

Long List of Recent Repairs

There’s a good chance that the recent list of repairs included in most history reports is only the tip of the iceberg.

A long list of repairs often means there is an even longer list of items just waiting to be fixed beneath the hood. The owner of the car or the dealership in question could be cutting their losses by selling the car rather than laying down the money it would take to fix the car’s lingering issues.

Pay careful attention to the vehicle’s maintenance history. Where there’s smoke, there is always fire.

A Young Car With A Lot of Previous Owners

One of the most telling items in a vehicle history report is the list of previous owners. You will be able to check and see how many people have owned this car before you.

If a vehicle has more than one owner every couple years, there’s a good chance that the car has problems, (as owners look to be keen to get rid of it).

If it’s a relatively young car (under five years old) with more than two owners, you should be particularly wary. You don’t want to be one more person in a long line of suckers who got roped into buying a lemon.

Here is something else to consider, harkening back to our previous point: You may struggle to track maintenance records if there have been many owners, so keep that in mind.

Missing Annual Registrations or Renewals of Tax

If the car wasn’t registered for a period of time, the car was most likely off the road for a while. This could be an indicator of unreported damage, or nothing more than a child going to university (and no longer needing their car).

Nonetheless, make sure you’ve clarified with the seller why the car was unregistered.

missing registration years in the carfax

Before buying any vehicle with a registration lapse, you need to get it inspected.

Failed Emission Inspection

If the car failed its emission inspection, there could be a significant engine or mechanical problem that has the potential to cost you thousands of dollars.

Emissions are a big deal in many states. Often, vehicles will fail state inspection because of emissions-related issues and can be taken off the road completely.

Listed as a Fleet or Rental Fleet Vehicle

Make sure to check and see if the car you’re looking at has a history as a rental car before going on the market.

Rental usually have multiple owners and, more often than not, will have many problems due to a lack of proper care and maintenance. While you can often get a great deal on a former rental car, you should always have them inspected.

The Vehicle Title Is Not in the Seller’s name

If the car’s current title isn’t in the seller’s name, they’re not legally allowed to sell you the car.

That’s why title history is an important part of any vehicle history report. Be aware of unlicensed vehicle dealers and individuals who flip cars for profit. They’re out there to make money by any means necessary and don’t care about selling properly-maintained cars.

Lack of Vehicle Repair history

You should be able to access a vehicle’s records by calling or emailing the location where it was previously serviced.

If the seller cannot produce a vehicle repair history, it may signal that the vehicle’s maintenance was neglected or the owner didn’t have the car for a long period of time.

Contains the Phrases: Insurance Loss, Salvage, or Rebuilt

The term “insurance loss” means that the car was totaled at some point. That’s something that should give you pause before signing any paperwork.

red flag phrases in the carfax

If the car has this term on its history report, there’s a good chance that it was salvaged and rebuilt. In this case, you want to inspect the car for any potential problems. It’s like breaking a plate. You can glue it back together, but it won’t be the same as it used to be.

Even if the vehicle is running fine and there are no problems, this could be grounds for you to negotiate a better price for yourself.

Water Damage

Water damage can have a long lasting impact on the electronics found within a car. If the car shows any signs of water damage, there’s a good chance you’ll run into issues with the electrical system at some point.

These issues can be as simple as your radio or aux outlet not working. Or, alternatively, your headlights could short out on a dark night. There is a multitude of issues that could arise, and none of them should be overlooked in the name of expediency.

Outstanding Recalls

If the car has outstanding recalls, it means that a vehicle, part, or accessory has been recalled due to a severe safety problem. That’s something that you have to take into careful consideration for the sake of your safety.

If the owner hasn’t taken the time to return the car and get it fixed by the manufacturer, that’s something you will have to do (and a cost you’ll have to factor into the buy price).

In Conclusion

You have to do your homework before you purchase a car. A huge part of that comes from reading and understanding vehicle history reports.

You’re going to want to look out for all of these items. If you find one, either walk away or bring it up as part of the negotiation.

Be sure to check on the vehicles you’re interested in before you arrive at the dealership. Using a service like CoPilot, you can find vehicles in your area and check out their history reports before you ever set foot on the dealership floor.