Check a car's VIN + Red flags to look for |
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How to get a VIN check on a used vehicle

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Know where that car has been by checking its VIN.

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. It’ll tell you if there’s money owed on it, if it’s been stolen or if it’s been in a serious accident.

How to check a car’s history

There are many sites that can run a car’s history by running it’s VIN. When your 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$39.99Vehicles 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$24.99Easily 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.
Used car lotFreeChecking your history cheaply and convenientlyIf you’re heavily considering buying the car and the seller has nothing to hide, your used car may just go ahead and front the cost of the report in order to make the sale.

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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?

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.

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 —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 March 19th, 2019

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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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Image source: Shutterstock

Kyle Morgan

Kyle Morgan is a producer for who has worked for the USA Today network and Relix magazine, among other publications. He can be found writing about everything from the latest car loan stats to tips on saving money when traveling overseas. He lives in Asbury Park, where he loves exploring new places and sipping on hoppy beer. Oh, and he doesn't discriminate against buffalo wings — grilled or fried are just fine.

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