Mystery or History? What kind of gambler are you when it comes to buying a car?

Mystery or History? What kind of gambler are you when it comes to buying a car?.


Mystery or History? What kind of gambler are you when it comes to buying a car?

Mystery or History? It’s your choice! Many vehicles today available for sale by individuals as well as dealerships can come with no history, essentially making them a mystery to the next owner. With all the wonderful resources at our fingertips today from carfax to autocheck to KBB to Edmunds to TrueCar there’s no reason why an educated consumer can’t have a little insight into what they are buying but is this enough?

I don’t think so. Buying a used vehicle today is multi-sensory. You need history on whether a vehicle had an accident or not, you need to check the title for salvage/lemon/flood and you certainly need maintenance history on the vehicle as well. In addition to this information which is all based on a report you can request, you also need to look at body panels (more on that later) and check under the hood and trunk for additional clues to the history of the vehicle.

I can’t reveal all the secrets in this blog, but I can give you some basics on where to start.

Accident, Lemon Buy-Back, Flood and Salvage History

CarFax, AutoCheck and other resources can cover a broad review as well as a detailed view of your next vehicles reported accident, flood, salvage or lemon buy-back (when a car manufacturer buys back your vehicle due to repeated issues and deemed a “lemon”).  These reports range from $29.99 to $54 and can also give different information on each, so it many cases it’s great to get both.  Additionally, looking at the title of a vehicle can tell a lot of information as well.  Buying a vehicle from someone whose name is not on the title could be a risk.  Buying a vehicle that has a “clear” title could mean that it has a rebuilt/salvage title as well.  Some states allow wrecked vehicles once deemed as “salvage” or a complete write-off from the insurance company as newly “rebuilt” vehicles which means they have been fixed and passed inspection.  There could be major issues still lurking under the repaired damage (concealed damage) and other issues may unravel down the road for the next owner.  While CarFax/AutoCheck can give you a good idea if a car has been involved in an incident, accidents don’t always get reported on these mediums.  In fact it is estimated that as much as 25% of all incidents do not get reported to these organizations for a multitude of reasons.  Just because your vehicle has a clean carfax does not necessarily mean it’s never been in an accident.  Conversely just because your vehicle has a claim on it (or incident) doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been in a wreck.  Two examples:  You get drunk, take the corner going into your street too fast, hit a curb, drive up on your lawn and drive your car into your own garage damaging the hood, wheels, fenders and undercarriage.  You were ashamed and embarrassed to report this to anyone and decided to not go through insurance to repair it, and pay cash to have a neighbor friend put cheap used parts on the car to get it fixed enough to sell it.  Using salvage yard parts, eBay parts from China and a non-certified body repair shop after hours your car gets “repaired” and no insurance claim is made.  No carfax reporting.  Let’s say you are parked in your car at starbucks and an old lady backs into you, freaks out and calls the police to report the damage and her insurance company.  You settle with her and get the car repaired at your local dealership using OEM genuine parts by certified body shop repair personnel, but unfortunately this will be reported to carfax.  In those two very different scenarios which vehicle would you like to purchase?

Other things such as inspecting all major body panels for tape marks, overspray, rough spots under them and trim pieces as well as gaps between panels can be indications a vehicle has been painted, but not necessarily “wrecked”.  Sometimes we get a car painted due to hail, rock chips, road debris, animals or other things that can damage vehicles but are not accident related.  Also body panels should have a VIN sticker on them showing they are original parts to the vehicle.  All the stickers should match.  If you open a hood on a car and suspect it’s been painted due to bubbles in the paint, overspray and tape marks underneath where they masked it off, and look under the hood and don’t see a VIN sticker, safety warning sticker or emissions sticker then you probably have a hood that’s been replaced.  Replaced body parts CAN indicate an accident but not necessarily 100% of the time-hail for example.  Without the proper documentation on the panels, my bet would be it’s a substandard or used/salvage yard part, not an original OEM genuine new part.

In summary there are many ways to verify a vehicle’s accident history-from carfax to feeling body panels for looking at the title and body panels.  Be sure you check them all out to be as informed as possible!

Consumer Reports, JD Power & Associates, Edmunds, KBB as well as the original books, manufacturer’s websites, forums and even the original window sticker can also be great resources of information for your next vehicle!  If it has the original window sticker and books and all accessories, chances are the previous owner(s) cared for this car!

Service and Maintenance History

Most dealerships do not offer service/maintenance history on their vehicles and you’d be lucky if the dealership can even tell you what they did to the vehicle after they purchased it.  Many dealerships simply wash and vacuum their vehicles after they buy them and put them out on their lot.  Some do a comprehensive reconditioning spending thousands on aesthetic and mechanical refurbishment of their vehicles they sell.  Individuals may or may not have been as detailed with their vehicle but in most cases an individual should have some service history on the vehicle.

On every vehicle there are manufacturer’s recommended service intervals.  A, B, C or 15k, 30k, 60k, 90k or sometimes they go by years.  Whatever the case may be, it would be ideal if you could have some type of knowledge of what has been done over the years to properly maintain the vehicle you are about to purchase to hedge bets on what service you will have to complete after you purchase it.  Why?  To avoid costly repairs!  For example:  You buy a Toyota from a dealership that is nine years old.  It’s never had the transmission fluid changed.  You drive it home and the transmission slips and eventually fails on you, costing you $4k in repairs.  If you had known that the fluid had never been changed in nine years on that vehicle, do you think you wold have purchased it?

Brakes, tires, serpentine belts (drive belts), hoses, batteries, wipers, bulbs are all common things that would be ideal to find out about but oftentimes can be replaced somewhat reasonably and not at a dealership.  I would call these “wear and tear” items.  Other components such as radiators, timing belts/chains, power steering system, transmissions, starting system (battery/alternator/starter), emissions (spark plugs/exhaust/intake) suspension (shocks/struts/control arms), drivetrains (rear or front differential) are all major components that can and will eventually need to be serviced and/or replaced.  Most of the manufacturers today recommend all fluids in the vehicle be changed and all filters be changed at a certain interval.  Failure to do so could lead to defects and eventually failure of any of the above systems on your vehicle.  It’s nice to have some history on the vehicle you are buying, even if it’s just recent.  If you are looking at a vehicle and there is no history, plan on spending a good amount of money “catching up” with the maintenance that was neglected by the previous owner and you should plan your purchase price accordingly.  Some items are very expensive…shocks, rotors (brakes), power steering racks, transmissions, radiators, timing belts can start at the $1k range and go up to $5k for a transmission.  If you have light or limited history, maybe just some oil changes and tires/batteries, plan on setting aside some money as well for major component services as well.  The BEST scenario would be to find a vehicle that has had the major services done on it, or at least some of them.  Buying a 90k or 100k mile vehicle is not scary or a risk if it’s been properly maintained at all the major service intervals.  Conversely you could purchase a 50k mile vehicle out of warranty and it’s never had any major components serviced and you could be looking at a major risk.

Some vehicles, such as Lexus have an online portal for customers to view service history on their vehicle based on their VIN number.  This allows owners to keep track as well as plan out their maintenance on their vehicle.  Are you good with people?  If so, be nice to your service advisor at your dealership and ask them to check history on a vehicle for you or to print out your vehicle’s service history to help sell it when you are getting ready to.  Having the information that your vehicle has been properly serviced can only add value to it and help you sell it quicker.  On the other side of the coin, a vehicle that has a well documented history of service should be worth more than one that does not, however not all car buyers are aware of the costs and risks associated with buying a mystery car with no service history.  I do, and this is why I am sharing this with you.

At Luxury Car Source, we don’t sell vehicles that have been in accidents, had any salvage or flood or lemon buy back issues.  We only sell non-accident, clean title and carfax vehicles.  We only sell vehicles with full or partial service history on them and we go through each of our vehicles with a comprehensive 160pt checkup when we buy them looking at everything from tires to brakes to fluids and filters and wipers before we sell them.  Our typical cost of refurbishing our new vehicles we get is $1-$1,500.  Money that you could certainly save by purchasing a “mystery” vehicle.  However, the $1k you may save in the short term pails in comparison to a radiator leak costing you $1500 and later a power steering rack replacement of $1200 just because the mystery vehicle you thought was a good deal had never been serviced properly.  Think about it…do you want your next vehicle to be a mystery one, or one with history?  Your choice!

Visit to see plenty of fantastic pre-owned Lexus, Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti vehicles with a great history!