How to get a VIN check on a used vehicle

Don't get scammed. Run a VIN check to discover what your car salesman or private seller might not be telling you about the car you want to buy.

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Fact checked

Avoid the surprise of a shoddy transmission or an inaccurate odometer reading before you buy your next car by running a vehicle identification number (VIN) check on a vehicle’s history. This check will tell you if there’s money still owing on the car, if it’s been stolen or if it’s been in a serious accident.

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How to check a car’s history

There are many sites that can check a car’s history by running it’s 17-digit alphanumeric VIN through a database of vehicle information. If you’re heavily considering buying a car and the seller has nothing to hide, he/she may just go ahead and front the cost of the report in order to make the sale.

When trying to look into the background of a vehicle you’re eyeballing, check with one of these car vehicle history providers:

CostBest for…How it works
Carfax$54.95
(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.
Autocheck$24.99 USD
(for 1 vehicle)
Easily checking that your car is in good shape.AutoCheck sells detailed vehicle history reports and ranks used cars by score based on similar cars with its make and a model. If your car gets an 88 but the average averages score for that make and model is 81 to 89, it’s in good shape.
VehicleCheckCanada
$9.95
(for 1 vehicle)
Checking your history cheaply and convenientlyVehicleCheckCanada offers a less expensive package than other major VIN check companies, and the report you get is very detailed covering liens and ownership history, damage, import information, warranty information, structural damage and service history, among other things.

*Prices and information current as of May 16, 2019.

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Why should I run a VIN check?

You might want to run a VIN check every time you buy a used car — especially if it’s from an individual. It can help you avoid scams and make sure that your vehicle is in as good a shape as the salesperson says it is. Otherwise, you could end up paying a lot more than your vehicle is worth.

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.

What does a VIN check tell me?

Doing a VIN history check will tell you how the car has been taken care of by its previous owners. Details about any insurance claims or police reports will come up in the search, along with:

  • Vehicle history and information
  • Ownership history
  • Odometer reading
  • Maintenance and repair records
  • Previous sales history
  • Accident or flood history
  • Recalls
  • Salvage check
  • Structural damage

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Red flags to look for when buying a used car

Some things should be considered a deal-breaker when buying a car — or they should at least warrant an enormous price reduction:

  • Has the car been previously written off? This means that it was decided that repairs would cost more than the car is worth. If a car has been previously written off, there’s a good chance it has some invisible damage or very shoddy repairs that might not be readily visible on the outside.
  • Is the car still under financing? If the car is still under financing, the seller probably shouldn’t be selling it, especially not without letting you know first.

    Say you buy a car that still has a loan on it and the seller doesn’t use the money from the sale to completely pay off the car loan. If the seller defaults on the loan, then your car could be repossessed – even if you had nothing to do with the loan or the seller’s default!

  • Is it stolen? Buying a car from a thief is a good way to get robbed. See the info box below on how to run a free check to see if a car has been reported as stolen.
  • Has the odometer been rolled back? This is a tell-tale sign that the seller is trying to rip you off. Even if the odometer appears tampered with only slightly, it might be in your best interest to walk away.
  • Has the vehicle been poorly maintained? If the car has a poor service history, then it’s a long way from “good as new” and will likely not be the reliable vehicle you need.
  • Does the VIN physically printed on the vehicle match the description of the vehicle on the car report? If not, then the VIN on the vehicle you ran the check on has likely been swapped with the VIN on another vehicle.

    VIN swapping is illegal and is usually done for 1 of 2 purposes: to hide bad information about a vehicle such as its accident history, flood damage or true odometre reading; or to hide the fact that the car was stolen.

    Your seller may know this, or they may have purchased the car in ignorance themselves. If you notice such a discrepancy between the VIN listed on a car and the description of the car on a car report, you should report the matter to the local police and let them handle it. Even if there’s a reasonable explanation, you want to be sure that you’re not getting an unsafe or unreliable vehicle.

  • Does the VIN report show the car as being registered in another province or country? Is it showing a salvage or junk title? This may mean nothing of importance. Or it may mean that the car’s real VIN has been replaced with a new VIN that has been registered in your province using the identity of a similar car from somewhere else.
    Police have issued public warnings that thieves can steal a car, find a very similar car in another jurisdiction and incorporate that car’s VIN into a new VIN plate and federal standards decal that are then placed on the stolen car. Then they get an out-of-province inspection form and forge a bill of sale, both of which are taken to the provincial Registry Office to register the stolen car under its new VIN. At that point the vehicle has a new VIN with a matching vehicle description on its records, and no one knows that the car was actually stolen.
    Ask the seller more questions than you normally would if the car you’re looking at buying is from out-of-town.

    Check the public VIN on the lower left dashboard compare it to the federal certification sticker on the driver’s door frame. The VIN should be identical and the sticker should not show any signs of peeling.

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

Find your next car loan here

Name Product Min. Loan Amount Interest Rate Fees Loan Term Min. Credit Score
Car Loans Canada
$7,500
3.99% to 29.90%
Varies by lender, loan type and province
12-84 months
300
Search thousands of vehicles online, including $0 down options, from dealers across the country and get matched with affordable financing options. Auto loans are also available to those with bad credit, consumer proposals and bankruptcies to help rebuild credit.
CarsFast Car Loans
$500
4.90% to 29.90%
Varies by lender, loan type and province
12 months - 8 years
300
Browse thousands of vehicles from dealers across Canada and get matched with financing that meets your needs. Apply online to purchase a new or used vehicle and get the vehicle delivered to your door.
LoanConnect Car Loans
$500
1.90% to 46.96%
Varies by lender, loan type and province
6-60 months
550
Get access to 25+ lenders through LoanConnect's brokerage. Receive pre-approval in as fast as 60 seconds and get your funds in as little as 24 hours.
Carloans411 Car Loans
$500
1.90% to 19.99%
Varies
Up to 84 months
300
Get connected with suitable lenders through CarLoans411. Finance your next car, van or truck with loans available in amounts from $500 to $35,000. Check eligibility for this loan through LoanConnect.
Auto Arriba Car Loans
$3,500
8.99% to 29.50%
Contract fee of $499.00
6-84 months
N/A
Auto Arriba offers car loans starting at $3,500 up to $100,000, with as little as a 30 minute loan turnaround time. On a limited number of approved loans, Auto Arriba is currently offering a rebate of the amount of your first scheduled payment 30 days after it has been processed up to a maximum of $500.
Fairstone Secured Personal Loan
$5,000
19.99% to 23.99%
Varies by province
3-10 years
560
Fairstone offers secured personal loans up to $35,000.
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Bottom line

Finding out a car’s vehicle history can reveal its condition as well as its current value. Doing your research to get a comprehensive understanding of everything there is to know about a used car you’re interested in buying will help ensure that you get the most bang for your buck instead of getting stuck with a raw deal.

Frequently asked questions

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