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Using VIN Numbers To Check Car Accident History

While this isn’t something you need to worry about when buying a new car, when purchasing a used car, experts say it’s best to spend a few dollars to obtain a vehicle history report. Most dealers will run a vehicle history report on a used car for interested buyers.

What is a vehicle history report? This is a detailed history of the vehicle from the time it was first sold. It is tied to the VIN for the vehicle, since all sales, registrations, titles and repairs include a vehicle’s VIN.

As a consumer, by using the VIN, you can check to see if the car was stolen, wrecked, had any reported flood damage, issued a salvage-title, and whether there were any recalls on the vehicle.

Where to get vehicle history reports

Two of the best-known companies providing vehicle history reports are AutoCheck and Carfax. Go to their website, type in the VIN of the car you want a vehicle history for, and the search will return the number of records found. At that point, you have the option of purchasing a single report for the vehicle, or you can buy unlimited reports for 30 days.

Vehicle history reports include such information as:

  • Major accident
  • Mileage rollback
  • Multiple owners
  • Structural damage
  • Lease, personal, taxi or police use
  • Total loss
  • Rebuilt
  • Flood damage
  • Airbag deployment
  • Mileage rollover
  • Salvaged
  • Hail damage
  • Branded a lemon
  • Last reported mileage
  • Junked
  • State owned
  • Length of ownership
  • Estimated miles driven per year
  • Not actual mileage
  • Recall information
  • Warranty information

In case you’re tempted to roll the dice and just take the seller’s word for the car’s history, be aware that you could be in for some headaches. A vehicle history report will track a vehicle’s history even if it’s been moved from state to state to “wash the title clean.”

Buying a vehicle history report isn’t the only thing you should do when buying a used car. It’s also recommended that you have the vehicle professionally inspected and take a test drive. After that, it’s up to you to negotiate the deal, armed with all the information you need to be in the driver’s seat.

MORE: See What is a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?


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