Checking the history of a vehicle: How I sniff out gems on the used car market

DriveramaNov 22. 2021

When it comes to used cars, I become a truffle hog. I literally dig up all of the dirt - and have a good snuffle through the vehicle history. In this article, I explain how you can find out about the history of a vehicle free of charge and why this is a good idea when buying a used car.

The history of a vehicle: When cars spill the beans

Someone once said that life is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. I see it differently, at least with regard to buying a used car. Here, I look closely and have a good snoop around in the life of that vehicle. After all, I have to be able to drive the vehicle later and live with my decision.

Before you buy a car, you should check the vehicle history. Only by doing this will you know what the vehicle has been through. The vehicle history provides information about important facts from the past. Only with this information can you judge whether the price the seller is asking is reasonable.

The vehicle history contains information about the previous owners, the mileage, accidents and repairs. Recalls and damage are also documented there. If you want to check the history of a vehicle, a professional vehicle dealer can help, but you can also get reports like this online.

Use the chassis number to open the door to some valuable information

I have only a vague idea about what is stored about me by someone somewhere. Why should cars fare any better? In fact, “they” know pretty much all there is to know about every single car out there.

First of all, the basics: You will need the VIN number. What is a VIN number? VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number, also known as the chassis number. This is the unique identification number for each vehicle.

Where do I find the VIN number? The VIN is made up of 17 characters (digits) and can be found in various places on the vehicle as well as in the registration papers. Normally, all you have to do is look through the windscreen from the outside in the direction of the dashboard. Alternatively, you can find the chassis number on the inside of the door on the driver’s side.

The VIN number is forgery-proof. It is also located on the bodywork of the car and can be checked by the police as well as insurance companies. Everything which was ever documented can be found in the vehicle history. However, there is still a certain residual risk: If an accident was not reported (and, for example, was repaired in a draughty garage at the back of someone’s house), this does not appear in the report.

In a nutshell: if you are standing in front of a rickety old rust bucket and the vehicle history is pitching it as the used car of the year, there is probably something fishy going on. I compare the information from the report with my own observations and experiences.

An additional tip: Always compare this number with the chassis number in the vehicle registration document.

Why I never do without the vehicle history report

A car may look good at first glance. However, I never rely on appearances and rather pay attention to what the reality of the situation is. This is why I strongly recommend that you check the vehicle history before you buy. Who owned the car before? Which repairs have been carried out? Were there any accidents?

You can get all this information from the VIN. Certain services on the Internet, such as carVertical allow anyone to access the vehicle history free of charge. All you have to do is enter the chassis number - and an exciting report will already be waiting for you. Even though it is very easy to get the report, I always feel like a secret agent who has just successfully completed his mission afterwards!

I then use the VIN report to check the vehicle for any hidden defects. By the way, I also use the report when I am selling my old car. Then, I make the report directly available to potential buyers. My advantage: The buyers gain confidence and the sale goes through faster and at a better price.

More exciting than any thriller: This information is contained in the report

If you can check the vehicle history and take a look into the vehicle’s past, you will find out a lot of details. But precisely which details does this concern?

Previous owner and other information about use

One piece of information relates to all previous owners. Any person who has ever registered the car also appears in the report. Of course, the fewer the owners, the better. The value of a vehicle is reduced if it was used commercially - especially as a rental car or taxi. In this case, you will have to reckon with higher wear and tear.

Accident history and damage

The accident history shows you whether a car has been involved in any major accidents. But it is not only accidents that appear in the report: Other damage is also noted. This applies, for example, to flooding. This can cause a lot of damage to a car without it being recognisable at first glance. If a claim has been submitted to an insurance company, the damage also appears in the vehicle history.

Vehicle registration document and liens

Imagine you buy a car and a few days later your doorbell rings. There is a stranger standing there looking you in the face and claiming that you have stolen his car. The reason: the alleged seller was not the owner. You have bought a stolen car - and now you have a problem.

You can use the vehicle history to check whether the seller is actually the owner. Liens are just as important. Maybe the owner borrowed some money and transferred the vehicle as collateral. This information at the right time is worth its weight in gold. Gold which the owner would have been better off finding on the street. The reason: His creditors can tow the supposedly purchased vehicle out of your driveway. Only when all of the debts have been settled or the creditors give permission for the sale do I act.

Recall notices and maintenance history

A full service history with chequebook receipts – sometimes this means that the last maintenance was performed when cheques were still used to pay for things. You know, about 30 years ago or so? The vehicle history tells you something about the maintenance habits of the previous owner. You will also find out about any open product recall campaigns.


Some people of my generation invest a lot of money in special creams to keep their faces looking young. Others invest in a little criminal manipulation to falsify the mileage racked up by their vehicle. The vehicle history contains information about previously documented mileage readings - and you can compare these with the information on the clock. If there are any discrepancies, you should leave - and certainly not in the vehicle with the tampered mileage.

Conclusion: You too can become a truffle hog!

You will probably agree with me after having read this article: when you buy a car, you should check the vehicle history. This will tell you who owned the vehicle before you, whether the seller really is the owner and whether the vehicle has been involved in any accidents or been damaged in any other way. The VIN report even provides information about the maintenance history and mileage. With this information, you can find true gems on the used car market without making any mistakes. But remember, this information is a real trade secret, so don’t tell anyone else about it!

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Germany HQ:

Driverama Germany GmbH

Ronsdorfer Str. 127

402 33 Düsseldorf

We are member of AURES Holdings