How to Read an AutoCheck Report
What is AutoCheck?
AutoCheck is a subscription service that provides a look into a vehicle’s history so that a potential buyer can assess the risks of buying that vehicle. AutoCheck is a subsidiary of Experian and is also partnered with other leaders in the automotive industry, such as Autotrader, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, EbayMotors, Nada Guides, and Cars.com. Many used-car shoppers consider AutoCheck a good resource, but there’s only so much that this service can do. These limitations mean that a vehicle history report may be missing important information, either because it was never reported or it was reported but hasn’t made it onto the report yet. After all, since AutoCheck reports are not based on any kind of firsthand inspection – nobody from AutoCheck ever sees these vehicles at all – the information they contain is likely to be incomplete.
What Does an AutoCheck Report Contain?
An AutoCheck vehicle history report outlines some factors that contribute to that vehicle’s AutoCheck Score so that the potential buyer can compare the cars they’re considering. The score begins at a certain numerical value based on the year, make, and model. That starting point will be lowered by factors such as accidents, high mileage, title brands (salvaged – such as from flood damage – or rebuilt), odometer issues, a history of multiple owners, frame damage, being branded as a lemon for repeated repairs at low mileage, whether a vehicle is a “buyback” (meaning that the manufacturer bought it back from the original buyer as required by law after it was found to be lemon), theft, repossession, and whether the vehicle has been used as a fleet vehicle – usually taxi or police.
However, if these factors appear on an AutoCheck report, it doesn’t mean the vehicle isn’t perfectly sound and worth buying. The reported issues did not necessarily harm the car, and if any damage resulted, it’s likely that it was repaired. And there’s always a chance that a mistake was made in the report. The only thing that matters is the vehicle’s present condition, and the surest way to assess that is to have it looked at mechanically by a professional you trust.
Here’s a look at the six categories you’ll see in an AutoCheck report and what information they contain:
AutoCheck receives accident data from the Department/Registry of Motor Vehicles, auctions, and insurance companies. AutoCheck itself has never physically inspected any vehicles or claimed to know of unreported accidents.
State Title Brand and Other Problem Check
Entries reported under this category can be significant, if they were serious enough to affect the vehicle’s safety. A salvaged or rebuilt title can greatly impact a vehicle’s overall condition and value.
Vehicle Use and Events Check
This section of an AutoCheck report identifies if the vehicle was used as a rental, lease, police vehicle, or taxi. It also shows if the vehicle is reported to have a loan/lien or duplicate title issued. The Events section will show reported accidents, repossessions, and theft.
Concealing or tampering with a car’s true mileage is illegal. The Odometer Check identifies incorrect or fraudulent mileage data, including rollbacks, rollovers, and other inconsistencies.
Detailed Vehicle History Report
This section shows a timeline of a vehicle’s history in chronological order. While it’s most important to focus on a vehicle’s current condition, knowing a vehicle’s entire history can help.
Here, you can see structural damage to the vehicle’s frame or unibody. If a vehicle has structural damage, it may be something minor as a dent to a part of the unibody of the vehicle or something major as a previous repair to a portion of the vehicles structural integrity that can potentially make the vehicle unsafe to drive and expensive to fix. Used Car Genius recommends that you make any purchasing decision based on the vehicles current condition, and have the vehicles condition reviewed by a trusted mechanic.
Reading an AutoCheck Score
The scores are based on a scale of 1 to 100 – with 1 the worst and 100 the best – but it’s not that simple. Each vehicle score also correlates to its specific make and model’s score range to give a more accurate picture. For example, a specific 1999 Nissan Maxima may have a score of 84, but the general 1999 Nissan Maxima score range is from 76 to 81. This implies that this 1999 Nissan Maxima exceeds the expectations of similar Maximas from the same model year. Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. On the other side, a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu may have a score of 89, but the range for 2005 Chevrolet Malibus is 90 to 95. Although the Malibu has a higher score than the Maxima, it falls short of the Malibu’s average score range, ultimately making it a less favorable option than the average Malibu from the same model year.
Where does AutoCheck Get Its Data From?
AutoCheck vehicle history reports receive data from several sources, including the Registry (or Department) of Motor Vehicles, auto auctions, and insurance companies. These reports also use police-reported accident and theft information and data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, during times of major storm events, to state when a vehicle suffered storm damage. Again, this data collection is not comprehensive: not everything is reported, and not everything that is reported gets added to the report in a timely manner.
The Takeaway: How Best to Use an AutoCheck Report
Feel free to use an AutoCheck report as one of many tools in your car-shopping arsenal. But while you may use a negative report to rule out a used car you’re considering, you should be careful about using a positive report to rule one in. Again, that report could be missing something in the vehicle’s past that was not reported to or otherwise recorded by any of the sources AutoCheck uses. It can also take some time for reported information to show up on the report, meaning that the report may change after you buy the vehicle. That could present a problem if you want to sell it later: if negative information from incidents before you bought the vehicle is added during your ownership, potential buyers can then see that if they view the report. Even if the negative parts of the report never caused an issue with the car (or if you had the issue fixed), that delayed negative report can devalue the car when you’re trying to sell it, as well as making some buyers change their minds.
The bottom line is that there’s no substitute for having a trusted mechanic look over the vehicle you’re interested in buying. This should include a road test so he can listen and feel for any unusual sounds that could indicate a developing issue. Used Car Genius will always welcome you to take this valuable step for your peace of mind.