How Do I Get a Used Car’s History?

April 26, 2018

Car History Databases

To research a car’s history, you must obtain the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This 17-character number can be found on the driver’s side door panel. After obtaining this number, you can visit an online car history database to order a vehicle history report or conduct a free search that can tell you if the vehicle has been in any accidents. Detailed reports from these sites include in-depth information about previous sales, title changes, accidents, damages and inspection information for a fee. Carfax and AutoCheck are two online companies that work with both state and federal agencies in compiling information about a vehicle.

National Insurance Crime Bureau

For free information about a vehicle’s history, conduct a quick search on the National Insurance Crime Bureau website. This site includes information about vehicle insurance fraud, if the vehicle has ever been reported stolen or if the vehicle has ever been considered a salvage vehicle (a vehicle that has been in a severe accident and considered unsafe to drive). To access this database, you will need the VIN number of the vehicle.

National Motor Vehicle Title Information Systems Database

The Motor Vehicle Title Information Systems Database allows you to search through state vehicle records to learn more about a vehicle’s history (no fee necessary). Insurance fraud, stolen property or other fraudulent activities are reported to this database. You can also learn if the vehicle title has been “branded,” meaning the title includes information such as “flood,” “salvage,”or “junk.” Vehicles labeled as salvage or junk may have been totalled in an accident and previously sold to a junk or salvage yard. Vehicles with flood labels have suffered internal or external flood damage. Reported odometer readings (from state inspections and emissions tests) are provided as well.

Reliability of Vehicle Reports

Even though vehicle reports are mostly accurate, these reports may not include all current information. For example, a title from one state registered in a new state may take a few weeks to be recorded on a report. Obtaining several vehicle history reports from various agencies and comparing them is the best way to ensure you are purchasing a reliable vehicle. Before buying a used vehicle from a private seller or dealership, take a test drive, ask for a VIN number and have the vehicle inspected by your mechanic to ensure you are getting a good deal.

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