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Car history check

A car history check will tell you if it's been stolen or in an accident, whether there's money owing and more.

The used car market is largely buyer beware, meaning you—as the buyer—take on the responsibility of checking over the used car and ensuring that everything’s up to scratch.

Read our guide to find out how to check the history of the car you want to buy and ensure you get a good deal.

What is a car history check?

A car history check will let you know if there’s money owing on the car, will give you details of its service history, if it’s been in an accident, or has been stolen.

There are various free and paid online sites where you can receive information to this effect.

How to learn more about a car’s history

Below are the car history checks that you can do yourself, either for free or a small fee:

  • Confirm registered person check: This is a free service you can use on the NZ Transport Agency website to verify who the car is registered to. To perform the check you need the person’s name or driver’s licence number and the vehicle plate number.
  • PPRS check: This shows whether there is any finance owing on the car. Visit the Personal Property Security Register (PPSR), set up an account, pay a small fee and begin the search. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you can pay a nominal fee to have an agency do it for you as part of a full service history check.
  • Car service history check: This will reveal the car’s service history, specifically where it has been repaired and what work has been done. You can check it for free through NZTA’s Motochek, but this will only show you when a vehicle has been repaired at a Motor Vehicle Registered workshop. If it comes up clean, it might simply mean that it’s been repaired elsewhere.

Use an agency

If you want to learn more about a car, the easiest and most secure option is generally to pay an agency to do a full check for you. Some agencies, like MotorWeb and the AA charge a one-off fee for reports, while others, like CarJam, offer a mix of free and paid reports depending on the tier you choose.

Why do I need a car’s service history?

Getting a car’s service history is important, as it can show you:

  • Whether the car has been listed as stolen
  • Whether the car has been previously written off as a result of damage
  • Whether the odometer reading is accurate, or whether it may have been wound back
  • A log of previous repairs
  • Previous sales history and how many times the car has changed hands

For example, depending on the provider, a service history check might look like this:

DateOdometer readingWork done
15 September 201960,000kmFull inspection, oil changed, tyres rotated
1 January 202065,000kmFront left tyre changed
2 January 202065,001kmFull inspection, replaced drive belt

Other checks you can do

Some organisations, like the AA, also offer car valuation reports. Considering that the vast majority of Kiwis loathe the idea of haggling for a car, getting the an idea of the car’s market value is a wise move.

Red flags to look out for

Some things should be considered a deal-breaker, or should at least warrant an enormous price reduction:

  • Does the car still have finance owing on it? If so, the seller probably shouldn’t be selling it, especially not without letting you know first. This doesn’t mean they won’t try. Check for outstanding finance through the PPRS website.
  • Has the car been previously written off? This means that it was decided that repairs would cost more than the car is worth. If a car has been previously written off, but is now sitting before you in the hands of a salesman, there’s a good chance it has some invisible damage or very shoddy repairs.
  • Is it stolen? Buying a car from a thief is a good way to get robbed on price.
  • Has the odometer been rolled back? This is near-ironclad proof that the seller is trying to gouge you.
  • Is it poorly maintained? If the car has a poor service history then it’s a long way from good as new.

Finding out a car’s history can reveal to you the state of the car and its current value, as well as more important issues, such as whether it’s been stolen, or if there is money owing on it. Getting car history check, along with following a used car buying checklist, can help ensure you get value for money and help you avoid driving away with a poorly maintained, possibly stolen, lemon that’s been trumped up by a shady owner.

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