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Now You Can Learn All About a Car's Past Life


Has a car salesman ever enticed you with an offer too good to refuse on a showroom "demo," which he assures you has been used only by the clean living manager of the sales department?

Before you purchase such a vehicle, it might pay to look into its history to make sure it is not a dealership buyback from a dissatisfied customer or something equally questionable.

In the past, such vehicle checks were difficult or impossible for consumers. But a new service offers the ability to run checks of a vehicle identification number (or VIN) for an ownership history.

This new service, known as VINguard, is provided by CCC Information Services Inc. of Chicago and has been used widely by dealerships that don't want to get stuck with a lemon or hot merchandise in a trade-in or at an auction.

CCC has its own database of stolen and totaled cars. It also can provide a record of whether the vehicle was used as a taxi or rental car. And the system is capable of red-flagging possible odometer fraud.

While most new and used cars sold are not tainted, problems do exist (remember Chrysler's case of allegedly laundering its lemons and reselling them without making buyers aware of their history of problems?).

The VINguard report is particularly useful for anybody buying a used car who does not want to get stuck with a branded lemon, a totaled vehicle that has been repaired or a former fleet car.

The VINguard report, which can be faxed or mailed, costs $19.95 and can be obtained by calling (800) 332-4699. To use the system, you need a Visa or MasterCard and the VIN number of the vehicle (which can be found on a tag on the left side of the dashboard, visible through the windshield).


Question: I seem to need brake jobs more often lately on my 1986 Coupe DeVille. Would you take a look at my repair records and tell me whether this is this normal? Or am I having a bad time?


Answer: The records you sent show that you are replacing your brakes on an average of every 10,000 miles. The most recent brake job occurred after only 3,545 miles. This is completely abnormal and indicates that either you have a serious problem in the brake system or a very heavy foot that rides the brake pedal.

In disc and rotor brake systems, it is possible for the caliper (the part that squeezes the brake pads against the rotor) to stick, causing the pads to wear constantly.

Another possibility is a defect in the hydraulic metering system, causing the brakes to be constantly applied. If you have a minimally competent mechanic, this should have been checked out after the first brake job. With 12 brake jobs in 82,793 miles, it seems very possible that you are riding your brakes.


Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will attempt to respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, 1875 I St. N.W., No. 1100, Washington, DC 20006. Or e-mail to

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