By Bill Poovey, Associated Press Writer
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Although a used car looks great and the price is right, today's shoppers know they must do their homework.
A vehicle history report provides important insight on a car's potential hidden problems, such as whether it's been in a wreck or possibly sustained flood damage.
Two major Internet competitors — Carfax and Experian Automotive's AutoCheck — provide such reports, both directly to shoppers and in many cases through sellers and dealers who pay for the reports.
A vehicle history from Carfax.com costs $34.99, and a report from AutoCheck.com costs $29.99.
The reports are a security blanket for one of the major purchases in a consumer's life. Consider that the potential pitfalls are numerous, flooding alone can damage the motor, the car's computer and electrical systems, and brake and airbag systems. A vehicle history can also help detect if the odometer was rolled back, alert you to whether the car is still subject to a manufacturer's repair recall, or possibly has a neglected lien in its past.
The reports are based on accessible records, such as data from state motor vehicle departments and vehicle auctions. If something on record is missed, some cars are eligible for buyback protection but costs vary.
Sixty-three percent of consumers who bought 2004-2009 model used cars relied on the Internet for shopping help in some way, such as buying vehicle histories and comparing prices, according to a 2009 J.D. Power & Associates report.
"They can compare how much they should be paying for a vehicle, how much room they have for negotiation with the dealer and how far they have to travel to get the specific vehicle they want," said Arianne Walker, a spokeswoman for the market research company.
Like other used-car dealers who have a paved corner lot full of shiny cars and also work with customers online, Jerry Roden of Roden Motor Co. in Chattanooga, Tenn., said Carfax "is one of our most important selling tools."
Roden and his brother, Steve, own and operate the dealership and rely on their reputation after more than three decades in the business.