The VIN number is a vehicle’s fingerprint. By checking the VIN (vehicle identification number), you can locate important events in the history of the vehicle you are either looking to buy or trying to sell—if you aren’t the original owner. In order to decode the details, there are scores of websites that can help make your decision easier by giving you access to tons of information: title history, accident reports, amount of owners, flood damage, lemon laws, recall info, and more. The more you can find out about a particular vehicle, the more power you’ll have when it comes time to change hands.
While locating your VIN number is easy—it’s usually located either on the driver’s side dashboard above the steering wheel, or on the driver’s side door jam—tracking down further details about your car is a more interesting and worthwhile procedure. There are many sites that make you pay to access information, and most likely that’s the way you’ll go, but you can get a great deal of information for free if you know where to look.
And unless you know the buyer, and trust them, you should never take anyone’s word regarding a pre-owned vehicle’s history. A little digging and background-checking can save you time, money, frustration, and buying power later down the road. Some of our go-to options below offer a variety of services (though most offer very similar services with the exception of price) dealing with checking the facts on the car in question. A well-informed buyer is a happy buyer. Good luck and happy motoring!
The most ubiquitous vehicle-history-reporting database, Carfax is usually the go-to source for dealerships when they want to sell you a car, and for good reason. Carfax has some of the most detailed information about a car’s history, and since it’s widely recognized, it’s hard to question its validity. However, Carfax is quite pricey (at $39.99 per report) and you can only use the report once per VIN number.
A better alternative than Carfax with more searchable criteria, AutoCheck offers unlimited reports by VIN number, whether the car in question was ever in an auction, and has its own proprietary AutoCheck score—a measure that they claim can help you assess a “vehicle’s predicted reliability.” Based on the initial cost of $24.99, AutoCheck already has the jump on Carfax, if still lagging in the marketing department. At Instamotor, we automatically provide a free AutoCheck vehicle history report for all the cars listed on our marketplace.
One of our preferred site because it offers a ton of information from government, dealership, law enforcement agencies, and insurance company sources among others, which give you detailed information about the car in question. If you’re looking for an initial primer into your research, Vehicle History is a great resource. You can use this information to process with the purchase of a used car, or use it as a stepping-stone to move forward to another, most likely, pay-to-use site. Best of all, it’s free and doesn’t ask you for any personal information, other than the VIN number of the car in question.
Somewhat of a confusing mess of information (a government site be confusing, who would’ve thought?) the Vehicle History website does offer multiple solutions for figuring out the title history of your vehicle in question. As long as you can make it to the consumer section, the website has a host of options—and quite affordable at that—to make the search easier.
Vehicle History gives a slideshow of five agencies they trust to use in your VIN search: vinsmart.com ($9.95); checkthatvin.com ($3.50); instavin.com ($6.99); titlecheck.us ($4.95); and vinaudit.com ($4.95). Be advised, however, that they don’t give you a lot of (rarely any) information for free. If you want to use one of these sites, you’re going to have to pay for it. But hey, at least it’s a lot cheaper than the aforementioned sites.
While these sites are free for a limited amount of information, the veiled curtain of data could leave you with more questions afterwards.
It offers free theft record and total loss record with their VINCheck system. Once you plug in your VIN, the results give you two clearly labeled data points on whether the car was stolen or declared as a total lose. If the two are clear, at least it gives you peace of mind that the car is based on solid ground. VinCheck is also free.
This site gives you a very brief summary of potential issues to look out for with a checks and flags list that gets rerouted to VinCheckUp.com, which will only let you look at records if you register for $9.95.
It provides a free recall check by VIN number that includes the past 15 years of recall notifications, including recalls that are still open for repairs. This is a great resource to cross-reference with the owner to see if the correct work has been done before you head into the buying process. You might even be able to use this as leverage to lower the price if the seller is trying to get rid of fast.
Finally, if time is on your side, you can follow this link to request DMV records state by state from Vehiclehistory.gov in order to find the “State’s Full Vehicle Title Record.” Some states look like they’re free of charge, and others charge a fee. We’re not entirely sure how long the process will take, but be aware that these are government agencies and timing might not be on your side. So, for timing of the sale, doing it over the Internet might be easier and more cost effective, making it easier on you by giving you the information immediately. By not waiting, the possibility of the car going to someone else is less of a possibility, making all your driving dreams come true.
[^1]: Image courtesy of Autocheck.com
Currently the full-time Editorial Director and Content Manager for RxSpeed.com, & contributing writer for Scout.com. He also loves photography, videography, his Shiba Inu Mia and driving sports cars.