88 Percent of Cars Have a Hidden History—Does Yours?

2004 Honda Pilot

Could you spot the $15,000 in damages?

If you knew the car you were about to buy was once melted by fire, would you still buy it?

I’m guessing the answer to that question is a resounding “No.”

However, someone out there owns a 2004 Honda Pilot that had the driver’s side melted away by a raging fire that burned a mere feet from the then-brand-new SUV. The windows shattered, the leather melted, the paint peeled, and every rubber piece of trim and sealant turned to a black mass of burned-out carbon.

That’s exactly what you want to see in a used-car ad, right? Oh, except this car was repaired and re-sold before the damage ever showed up on any reports. After some $15,000 and 12 weeks in a body shop, the car came out looking (if not smelling) completely new.

According to a press release by Experian AutoCheck, 88 percent of used cars for sale have a hidden history that could negatively affect the vehicle’s value. Of those, 32 percent were critical issues such as being registered as stolen or having outstanding finance or other debt liens associated with the vehicle. Thirteen percent of used cars checked by AutoCheck have been previously written off or totalled by insurance companies.

This news comes the day after a friend told me he once bought a used Ford Ranger for $3,500, only to discover later it had been “mostly submerged.”

The lesson here? Make sure you know better!

Do your homework and check the history of any car before you buy it. Check AutoCheck, check CarFax, ask the previous owner if you can look at service records, search through the CarGurus used listings, and take advantage of the dealer reviews there. Exhaust every resource you can, and you should reduce the risk of buying a vehicle like that Pilot, which, as you probably guessed, belonged to me.

I bought it new, and within six months it suffered the fire damage. Well, to be more accurate, it was heat damage. The vehicle never actually caught on fire. After it was fixed, I wanted to get rid of it, so I checked its history to see if the damage showed up. It didn’t, so I brought it to a local dealer, who happily paid top dollar to take it on trade. I don’t know what ever happened to that Pilot or who bought it, but I hope the damage showed up eventually so the next potential owner could avoid potential disaster.

Have you ever discovered a secret history on a car?


Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Honda Pilot
Used Ford Ranger


  1. I tend to get rid of my cars as they approach 100K, so I’ve never had one that hit such high mileage. After reading this maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid! I was shopping for a used Accord not long ago and was shocked to see how many had over 200K on the odometer. And they were selling!

  2. In researching used cars, I have found things I considered suspiscious using carfax. (Many dealers offer free carfax right on their web sites.) It’s not always obvious, but things to look for are gaps in mileage records, moves from state to state, especially coming from states known as problem areas for car fraud (like Florida) and multiple accidents. Another sure bet to avoid is anything with a salvage title, which means the car was totaled and often what you are buying is sections of two wrecked cars welded together. Good tip is to avoid buying one of those used cars sitting out front of a collision shop.

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