Vehicle history reports, are they really worth it?

SEATTLE -- You might have noticed commercials for companies like 'CARFAX.'

They promise to make your car buying experience easier by providing vehicle history reports by tracking a car's vehicle identification number, or VIN. The reports use information from the DMV, insurance companies and repair shops. Once you pay for one, it shows title information, accident history, recalls, the number of past owners, and odometer readings.

Q13 asked the folks at PEMCO Insurance, 'is it worth it get one of those reports?' They tell us there's a few things to keep in mind first.

"If there's been a recent accident, or repair it might not make it to the report at the time you order it," Kristine Zewe, a PEMCO quality analyst explained. "Or if somebody pays for the repairs out of pocket, it might not show up on the report."

Zewe said, if you're looking to buy a used car, it's a good idea to get one commercial report, and then another one from vehicle title information. That's a federally run program and it's pretty inexpensive. Commercial reports, on the other hand, tend to cover more, but there's a few ways you can save some money on them.

"Commercial reports are gonna cost $30 to $40 each," Zewe said, "although a lot of dealerships will provide them for free if you're looking at a particular car. A lot of them also offer a subscription option if you're going to be looking at several cars. That will save you money because it allows unlimited reports for a specific period of time."

Once you get a report, look out for these red flag words: "flood", "rebuilt", "salvage" or "lemon." If you see one of those, Zewe said, move on from that car!

So are commercial reports worth it?

Zewe said yes, as long as you back them up with a second opinion.

"Those reports are really useful, but they're not 100%," Zewe said. "So combine them with a review of your trusted mechanic and you'll be in much better shape to look at a good car."

Another important tip, don't skip the test drive! Consumer Reports says that's an easy way to see if there are any issues with a car, even if it has a good report.