Running a vehicle identification number (VIN) check (also known as a Vehicle History Report or VHR) on a vehicle can give you a lot of information about that car’s history. There are good reasons for checking the VIN on a used car before buying it, as it can alert you to potentially concerning facts in its history.
Types of VIN
Not all VIN checks are the same. Some only provide limited information, such as whether or not the car is reported stolen. Other checks give you comprehensive information on past ownership, accident history, factory recalls, and even maintenance information for that vehicle. Free VIN check reports usually give you more basic information, and more detailed checks usually cost between $20 and $40.
How to do a VIN Check
A VIN check starts with the vehicle’s VIN. You can usually find this number on a small plate attached to the driver’s side of the front windshield, visible from the outside of the car looking in. The VIN is a combination of 17 numerals and letters unless the vehicle was manufactured before 1981. Vehicles made before 1981 may have a shorter VIN, but they are usually located in the same place on the dashboard.
Next, take the VIN to a government-sponsored VIN check service, such as the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) or the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), or to a third-party, private VHR provider.
NICB provides a free VIN check for stolen vehicles, and NMVTIS offers links to multiple VIN check and VHR providers. Remember to access a VIN check website from a computer connected to a printer so that you can print out the report.
What a VIN Check Can Tell You
Depending on where you get the VIN check, you can find out information such as:
Odometer readings at changes of ownership
Title history, including accidents, flood damage, and salvage titles
Liens on the title
You can also find out information about “lemon” status, a designation given to some defective vehicles with factory recalls. Some reports also include information about servicing records and sales at auctions.
When to Run a VIN Check
When you buy a used car, a VIN check can save you a lot of trouble. By checking the VIN you can avoid buying a car that is stolen, salvaged, or has a severe accident history. It can also potentially reveal an incorrect odometer reading and tell you where the vehicle has been registered.
Knowing which parts of the country the car has been driven in can make you aware of potential hidden problems, such as salt damage under the vehicle from operating in states with icy road conditions.
When you sell a used car, running a VIN check before you put it up for sale can alert you to problems with the title or other issues you are not aware of. You can also offer a VIN check report to potential buyers to boost their confidence in buying your used vehicle.