Government service can help car buyers

By Nick Rivers on January 6th, 2012

Looking to buy a used car? It might be a good idea to learn more about the auto by using the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS).

The NMVTIS provides some of the same details as the better known Carfax. You can check the title history at this consumer-oriented, nonprofit service provided by the federal government.

Just follow easy steps at the NMVTIS website to discover a vehicle's title background, total loss and salvage history, most recent odometer readings and (with some cars) theft records. NMVTIS requires more than 9,000 insurers, junkyards, auto recyclers, salvagers and state DMVs to report title record details on an ongoing basis.

Having this information is an important step when shopping for a used car. Each report costs $2 to $7. (Other important actions include asking a mechanic to snoop under the hood and around the chassis, and finding the right auto insurance fitting all your needs once the car passes muster.)

Beyond knowing who owned the car and what may have happened to it during that time -- from accidents that could have left it unsafe to a fraudulent title -- acquiring the history also has significant auto insurance ramifications.

Industry experts point out that it's always good to know a car's value so you can buy a policy reflecting that value.

Further, many car insurance companies require a safety inspection before providing coverage if the car has a salvage title. And some car insurance companies won't sell optional comprehensive or collision coverage if there's proof of significant accident-related damage before the car was resold.

NMVTIS is a good start but you should also consider acquiring information from Carfax as a second step, just to guarantee you have all the facts. Carfax says it fills some of the gaps in what NMVTIS reports, including service and repair information, detailed accident and police reports, and lien and recall history.

Carfax also says it will buy back any vehicle that customers purchased based on incorrect information in one of its reports, a guarantee NMVTIS doesn't make. Keep in mind, though, that Carfax is more expensive: One report costs $35, and five reports cost $45. But many car dealerships provide Carfax reports for free, so be sure to ask.

Another good resource in your buying strategy is to visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a nonprofit group providing valuable car insurance fraud information.








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