How to Check a Used Car’s History Before You Buy It

Man and woman looking at cars in a parking lot.Nestor Rizhniak / Shutterstock

Before buying a used car, it is always wise to check the history of the vehicle and know the full story. Here's how to make sure you do not get scammed.

Buying a used car is a great option if you need a new set of wheels, but you do not have thousands of dollars to spend. Unfortunately, it is easy to be fooled when buying a used car. There are tons of horror stories about people buying cars with serious mechanical problems or discovering that their new car has been stolen from its original owner.

So, how do you protect yourself when you buy a used car? You use the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the vehicle to search its history and make an informed purchase decision.

What is a VIN and why is it important?

When buying a used car, you must always know the vehicle's VIN. A VIN is a chain of 17 letters and numbers used as the social security number of the vehicle. No car has the same VIN, so you can use it to check the history of a vehicle. When you search for a VIN, you have access to information such as registration, reminders, service records, and so on.

Drawing showing where to find the VIN on a car.National Road Safety Administration

You can find the VIN of a car by looking at the front door of the driver or in the front corner of the windshield and dashboard. VINs are also registered on the insurance card, title and registration of a car. It is ideal to see the VIN yourself and take a photo with your smartphone rather than accept the seller's VIN, without being seen.

Why should I check the VIN when buying a car?

You should always check the VIN before buying a new or used car. When you do, you get a basic history of the car, including statements of theft, damage or accident. Imagine driving a stolen car out of the parking lot. This is an extreme example, but not unheard of. If you perform a vehicle identification number check, you can avoid some of these major problems.

A vehicle identification number check also reveals whether something is happening in the car that could compromise its ability to operate safely. You can also get maintenance records for the car and find out if it is subject to regular maintenance such as an oil change.

If you buy a car from a reputable dealer, it will give you a free VIN number before you buy it. Your salesperson should review the report with you. The report will provide you with a lot of information about the car, including the number of owners, the accidents with which it was associated, the insurance claims filed and the fact that it is being recalled.

What should I look for in the VIN report of a car?

Gauges on the dashboard of a car.Song Pin / Shutterstock

If the dealer provided you with a car history report, what should you look for? You will usually find a lot of information, but here are the most important points to consider.

Is it legal?

If you buy from a reputable dealer, you will not have to worry about whether the car is legally available for sale. If, on the other hand, you buy from a private owner or a potentially suspicious dealer, make sure the title of the car is clear and clear. The VIN report informs you if a car has already been stolen.

The number of previous owners

The VIN report shows the number of previous owners of a car. If there were two or more, it could indicate that something is wrong, mechanically or otherwise. If you notice this, you may want to ask for a second opinion on the suitability of the car.

Have there been any accidents?

An accident can affect a vehicle in many ways. Damaged cars can have considerable damage even if they are not visible to the naked eye. If a car has an accident, make sure that it can drive safely and that any problems have been repaired.

Similarly, damaged cars are worth less than previous cars. This means that an accident can affect both the purchase price and the resale value. You may be able to negotiate a lower price to buy a damaged car. However, you will also have to sell it cheaper.

Has it been taken care of?

Many VIN reports indicate the maintenance records of a car. You can see when and how often routine care is done, such as oil changes or tire rotation. If you buy a used car, it is important that its former owners take good care of you. Otherwise, you may have to pay a larger repair fee than you expect.

Are there any reminders or warranties?

A VIN report also indicates any ongoing recall on a vehicle model. Most of the time, a dealer deals with the repair of the recalls for free, so you will not have to worry about the reminder that will cost you money. However, it is important for you to know about recalls away, so that you are aware of the possible dangers when driving.

The VIN report also indicates if the car is still under warranty. A warranty can save you money on expensive repairs that arise.

Where to check the history of the VIN

There are several ways to check the VIN history of a used car. Here are some of the best places to check the history of a car.


CarFax is a leader in providing detailed VIN reports to potential buyers. Many reputable car dealers provide CarFax reports for used car purchases. You can also buy a CarFax report yourself on their website if you buy directly from an owner or dealer who does not offer this service. A CarFax report costs $ 39.99.

National Bureau of Crime Insurance

The National Insurance Crime Bureau provides a database of records of theft or loss of cars. You can grab the VIN from a car to see if it has been marked as stolen or severely damaged at any point in its history.

Full VehicleHisory VIN Report provides detailed information on car inspection and performance records, safety ratings, warranty, etc. You can also know when and where the vehicle was put on sale.

National Road Safety Administration

National Road Safety Administration offers a VIN search this tells you if a car is under any recall order.

Other ways to get information about a car

In addition to online services, you can get in-person support to learn more about a car's history and suitability for purchase.

Ask the dealer

If your dealer does not automatically provide you with a CarFax report, you can always request one. If they want you to buy from them, they will pay the nominal fee to give you the information you need. If they refuse, they do not want or really deserve your business.

Talk to the owner

If you buy a car directly from its owner, you must ask him his story. Here are some good questions to ask about a used car:

How long have you?
Did he have any accidents?
Does it have aesthetic or mechanical problems to solve?
Have pets been in the car?
How was this car used before?

Keep in mind that the owner may not tell you the truth. You should always try to confirm what is said with a CarFax report or an examination by a mechanic.

Have it examined by a mechanic

If you have a trusted mechanic, you can ask him to examine the car you are considering buying. A mechanic knows what to look for to determine the safety and efficiency of a car. See if you can take the car to the mechanic's shop, or ask your mechanic to come with you.

Buying a used car can be stressful and scary. What if you make the wrong choice and buy a lemon? The best way to avoid this is to do as much research as possible in advance. Arm yourself with knowledge and avoid making a costly mistake.

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