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How to check a VIN number in Canada

Don't get scammed. Discover what your seller might not be telling you about the car you want to buy.

When you’re in the market for a used car, you can avoid any unwelcome surprises by running a vehicle identification number (VIN) check with a car history report. It can tell you if there’s money owed on it, whether it’s been stolen or if it’s ever been in a serious accident. Here’s how to run a VIN check in Canada.

VIN check vs. car history report

A vehicle identification number (VIN) is a car’s unique, 17-digit identifier. Running a VIN check on a car provides you with the basic DNA of the vehicle such as:

  • It’s year, make and model
  • Manufacturer, features and specs
  • Where it was built

A VIN is also used for tracking a car’s warranty and insurance claims, recalls, and registrations. A vehicle history report includes all the information from a VIN check but with more details including:

  • Accident history
  • Ownership changes and title status
  • Service records

Running a basic VIN check can help you avoid fraud by making sure the car you’re looking to buy is what the seller says it is. Getting a car’s history report can help you stay away from potential mechanical problems and avoid major issues like liens.

How to get a free VIN check

Most sites offer a basic VIN check for free and can check a car’s history report by running it’s VIN through a database of vehicle information. If you’re heavily considering buying a car and the seller has nothing to hide, they may just go ahead and front the cost of the report in order to make the sale.

Here’s where you can get a free VIN check plus have the option of purchasing a vehicle history report for the car you’re looking to buy:

CostBest for…How it works
Carfax$57.95
(gives you a report and lien check for 1 vehicle)
Vehicles with a hard-to-find historyCarfax has a database of over 17 billion history reports offering details on everything from sales history, previous owners, maintenance records and more.
Insurance Bureau of CanadaFree (VIN check only)To see if a vehicle was salvaged or rebuilt due to disasterThe IBC uses their VIN Verify service to protect consumers from fraudsters looking to sell fire or flood damaged vehicles for profit.
VinAudit Canada$14.95
(for 1 vehicle)
Easily verifying the vehicle is what the seller says it isVinAudit’s report includes sections about the vehicle’s specifications, registration records, title status, recall and buyback records, plus theft and salvage auction records.
Transport CanadaFree (recall information only)Checking for a car’s recall historyTransport Canada offers a free tool to look up a vehicle by its VIN to see if it’s been recalled by its manufacturer.
Used car dealershipFreeChecking your car’s history cheaply and convenientlyReputable used car dealerships should be able to provide a free vehicle history report on the vehicle you are looking to buy.

*Prices and information current as of February, 2021.

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Why should I run a VIN check?

A VIN check can help you avoid scams and ensure your vehicle is in good shape. It’s useful any time you buy a used car, especially if you’re dealing with a private seller. Otherwise, you could end up paying more than your vehicle is worth — and potentially dealing with problems caused by previous damage or poor maintenance.

What if the vehicle doesn’t have a VIN or I’m having trouble running a check?

If a car you’re interested in doesn’t have a vehicle history, you don’t have to write it off completely. Instead, bring it to a mechanic you trust and have them give the car a top-to-bottom inspection. If you’re having trouble running a VIN check for a vehicle that does have a VIN, try asking your auto insurance company to run the VIN check for you – often, this will get you the information you want.

4 red flags to look out for when buying a used car

Some things should be considered a deal-breaker — or at least warrant an enormous price reduction. Look out for these red flags when buying a used car:

  • Has the car been previously written off? This means it was decided that repairs would cost more than the car is worth. If a car has been written off or issued a salvage title, there’s a chance it has some invisible damage or shoddy repairs.
  • Is the car still under finance? If the car is still under finance, the seller should let you know. If you find it out through a car history report, you may want to dig deeper — or find a different car.
  • Has the odometer been rolled back? This is a telltale sign the seller is trying to rip you off. Even if the odometer appears tampered with, it might be in your best interest to walk away.
  • Is it poorly maintained? If the car has a poor vehicle history, then it’s a long way from good as new and will likely not be as reliable as other options out there.

Did you know about the Canadian police information centre?

Click here to be taken to the Canadian Police Information Centre where you can run a free search on any vehicle in order to see if it has been reported stolen. Simply enter the VIN number, read the terms and conditions, agree to them and then click to begin the search. If you get a positive result, contact your local police immediately, and do not proceed with the sale

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Customer Survey:
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From 8.49%
$7,500 - No max.
12 - 96 months
Requirements: 3+ months employed, Max.1 bankruptcy, Ontario & Nova Scotia only
Apply for financing with online dealer Clutch, who partners with some of Canada’s largest financial institutions to get you competitive interest rates.
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Bottom line

Looking at a used car’s vehicle history report can give you an idea of the condition its in and current value. Doing your research along with following a used car buying checklist can help ensure you get the most bang for your buck. And when you’re ready to buy, compare your used car loan options to find the best deal available to you.

Frequently asked questions

Stacie Hurst's headshot
Written by

Associate editor

Stacie Hurst is an editor at Finder, specializing in a wide range of topics including stock trading, money transfers, loans, banking products, online shopping and streaming. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Writing, and she completed one year of law school in the United States before deciding to pursue a career in the publishing industry. When not working, Stacie can usually be found watching K-dramas or playing games with her friends and family. See full bio

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Co-written by

Associate Publisher, Investments

Jaclyn Hurst was an associate publisher at Finder. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Redeemer University and a University Certificate in Management Foundations from Athabasca University. She’s as passionate about business and finance as she is about the great Canadian outdoors, organic Sumatra coffee and music. See full bio

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