It’s important to know how the legal and bureaucratic safety measures cushioning the car industry work because in many cases the consumer’s knowledge about them can keep everyone much safer. Nowhere was this more obvious than when my girlfriend and I went to buy our first car together.

The first day we went to the dealership, we were taught a very good lesson about how one slip of paper can give you peace of mind when buying a used car. The salesman had just finished showing us every mid-range sedan in his lot that had a V6 in it and, even though we had found the perfect car, my girlfriend stood biting her lip and staring blankly at the asphalt.

“Maybe just give us a minute?” I asked the salesman.

Even after he left, my girlfriend remained silent. I couldn’t understand the hesitation: the off-white, older model four-door had everything on her checklist, plus A/C, and was well under our $10,000.00 limit. She had nearly shrieked when she saw it. We let the salesman show us the rest of the cars the dealership had to offer but all three of us knew it was just a formality – we were going to buy the white car regardless.

“How do we know if this car has been in an accident before?” she asked.

She had spent months preparing to buy a car, just like the one we were standing in front of, but had never thought about how we could ensure that it was safe to drive.

I remembered from buying my first car that most dealerships can provide you with some kind of vehicle report. It’s in their interest to prove to you that the car is safe and one way they can do this is by gathering information about the vehicle’s history. The report I got when I bought my car listed who owned the car in the past, whether or not it had been in any accidents and some other very important information.

With my girlfriend still thinking out loud about whether or not the car we had decided to buy would be safe, I suggested we go inside the dealership to see if they could provide us with a vehicle report on the white four-door. Sure enough, they had one ready with the rest of the paperwork. The salesman was good enough at his job to know that he should explain what he was showing us and went through the report step-by-step.

Every vehicle report will show, if known, the following about the car:

  • –          If it was salvaged, junked, or dismantled
  • –          If it was rebuilt or reconstructed
  • –          If it sustained fire, flood, or hail damage
  • –          If it was ever classified as a total loss or “write off”
  • –          If and when the airbags were deployed
  • –          Descriptions of accidents
  • –          If it was ever used as a crash test vehicle
  • –          If the odometer was ever rolled back or tampered with
  • –          Mileage accuracy
  • –          Number of owners and date/location of ownership
  • –          Whether it was leased
  • –          If it was ever stolen
  • –          Whether it was ever used as a rental or fleet vehicle
  • –          If it was ever used as a taxi or police car
  • –          If the vehicle was ever recalled
  • –          Warranty check

One way to make sure you get a good deal on a used car is to get a vehicle history report either online or through the dealership. It’s a great way to give you an idea of how safe the vehicle is as well because it contains information about whether or not the car has been refurbished, whether it was used as a crash test vehicle and much more information about the overall “health” of the vehicle.