When purchasing a used car, how can you be certain you're not buying someone else's headache?

There have been countless cases nationwide of people who purchase a used car from a prominent dealer and drive it for years before learning it was once wrecked and rebuilt. Unfortunately, vehicle history reports from companies like CARFAX and AutoCheck are never perfect; some could even be missing the fact that the vehicle was totaled.

Jim Appleton, President of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, doesn't target the companies or dealers as the root of the problem. He says insurers are not relaying the accurate information, or people in accidents may have repairs done without getting insurers involved.

"New car dealers are the largest consumers of used vehicles on the face of the earth," Appleton added. "They take billions of vehicles ever year in trade from consumers, and they really don't know the condition of those vehicles any better than the consumer who buys them."

Still, Appleton says the best way to protect yourself is by doing business with a reputable dealer and rely on outside inspection.

He continued, "All new car dealers sell certified used vehicles, which are subject to scrupulous mechanical and physical inspections, but you shouldn't rely just on the dealer. You should inspect the vehicle yourself."

For years, consumer organizations and dealer groups have been pressing federal lawmakers for enactment of a national program that would tie together insurance and motor vehicle databases. The program would allow for more vehicle information about collision repairs, damage and prior use.

"There's no reason why vehicle history shouldn't be fully transparent," Appleton said. "There's no reason why consumers and dealers should be purchasing data that is imperfect."