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Used car shopping? Accurate vehicle history is crucial

October 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
You can save a lot of money by buying a used car instead of a new one. However, you want to make sure the car you're buying has not been in a wreck. Here are the best ways to check a vehicle's history.

Most of us are not experts in auto-body repair. So it's crucial for a used-car shopper to do their homework before buying.

"If you buy a car that has damage that you don't know about, it could not only become unreliable, but it could endanger your family," said Becky Warren, Car Safety First Coalition.

A random group of people were asked recently to pick, just by looking, which of three used cars sustained previous damage. No one picked up on the damage. One person picked the correct car because it was her preferred color. Liking the color, or guessing, are certainly not the best ways to shop for a used car.

There are several vehicle-history-report services available online. Your car dealer might offer one to you. However, if it's the government's NMVTIS (National Motor Vehicle Title Information System) report, be careful.

For example, on the damaged car in the test, the NMVTIS report shows there's no problem. It comes up clean with no red flags to warn against purchasing. But the CARFAX report shows accident damage reported for the same vehicle.

Another option is to have a certified mechanic examine the vehicle.

So the next time you buy a used car, make sure you do your research before you buy.