InstaVin, a new text-message-based accident-history report search system, launched last week. It offers quick information for prospective buyers at a lower cost than CarFax or other competitors. The system is temporarily free, and Jalopnik tried it out.
The two current leaders in the accident-history reporting market are CARFAX and AutoCheck, both offering detailed accident, service and other car history data for $34.99 and $29.99, respectively. Another service, MobileTrac, hopes to cut into the market with accident reports for $1.99 and vehicle history reports for $6.99.
At the center of this move is InstaVIN, which allows consumers to text a car's vehicle identification number to INSTA and get a report back in a few seconds. Here's one we tried for Sam Smith's Honda CRX.
The pricing information is determined by culling data from recent transaction and the accident-history report, the company says. It's claimed to be more accurate than what you'd get from a CARFAX report.
"Our data is delivered in real time, so unlike CarFax, we don't collect data sources and update it four times a year," says MobileTrac CEO Jim Irish. "We ping all of our data sources within seconds and get back what the report. CarFax does not do that. They buy data and update it quarterly."
In playing with the system, it's clear you get what you pay for. The data comes back in a matter of seconds, but it's limited to whether or not the vehicle has been in an accident. The recent pricing for your zipcode is instructive if you're buying or selling the average version of your car, but it doesn't account for having something special like an unmodified, low-mileage CRX. It also won't spit out a price if your car hasn't been recently sold in the area, as in the case of an old Volvo station wagon.
Irish admits this is only part of the process of buying a car, and warns against relying entirely on these reports for prepurchase information. "Reports are just the first step in being a diligent buyer," he says.
The company is also working on a more thorough online title check and history report for $6.99, but unlike the CarFax report, it won't have detailed service records.
If we were in the market for a normal used car built in the last 30 years, the InstaVin text-message service is where we'd start, but we'd still look to another service for more details. It also serves a purpose if you have a habit of constantly buying used cars you find parked on the highway.
To try the text-message reporting just sent a VIN to 46782 and they'll send you one free report. After that you can go to InstaVIN.com. Note you have to enter a credit card number and your mobile number to get more reports. The offer ends June 30th.
(Full Disclosure: InstaVIN gave us a code to let us try VINs instantly, which let us determine mostly that Jalopnik writers and their friends and family don't buy new cars.)
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