Check a car's vehicle history + Red flags to look for |
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How to get a history report on a vehicle

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Before you purchase your next car, make sure you check it’s history.

Avoid the surprise of a shoddy transmission or an inaccurate odometer reading before you buy your next car. A check on a vehicle’s history can tell you if there’s money owed on it, if it’s been stolen or if it’s been in a serious accident. Make sure you’re getting what you paid for by using the VIN to search for a car’s history.

Why you’d want to look at a car’s history

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

How to find a car’s history

There are many sites that can run a car’s history. When your trying to look into the background of a vehicle you’re eyeballing, check with one of these car vehicle history providers:

  • Carfax. Around since 1984, Carfax is a reputable service that offers a detailed report showing everything from sales history, previous owners, maintenance records and other must-know vehicle information — a report costs $39.99, but some used car lots will run one for free.
  • AutoCheck. Backed by Experian, AutoCheck sells detailed vehicle history reports and ranks used cars by score for $24.99 per report. It takes a make and a model and gives you a score range based off of similar cars. Let’s say that a 2010 Toyota Corolla averages a score of 81 to 89, and the car you’re interested in is rated a 88 — you can be confident the car is in good shape.

If you’re heavily considering buying the 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.

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.

Red flags to look for when buying a used car

Some things should be considered a deal-breaker —or 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.
  • Is the car still under finance? If the car is still under finance, the seller probably shouldn’t be selling it, especially not without letting you know first.
  • Is it stolen? Buying a car from a thief is a good way to get robbed.
  • 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, 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 the reliable vehicle you need.
Did you know about the National Insurance Crime BUREAU ?

By entering a VIN number into the NICB website, you can learn if a car has been stolen or written off as a loss.

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Rates last updated September 24th, 2018

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Lower your monthly car payments and save on interest through a fast and easy online application process.
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1–6 years
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Typically 1 to 7 years
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Good to excellent credit
36 to 72 months
Valid street address; existing Capital One accounts in good standing. Car must be a 2006 model or newer with less than 120,000 miles.
Wells Fargo Auto Loans
Auto loans with high loan amounts to cover your car purchase or refinancing needs.
Good to excellent credit
1 to 6 years
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Bottom line

Finding out a car’s vehicle history can reveal to you the state of the car and its current value. Doing your research along with following a used car buying checklist can help ensure you the most bang for your buck instead of getting stuck with a lemon.

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