When you buy a used car, you don’t want to take the seller’s word about its condition and history. That’s why many people do a check using the vehicle identification number, or VIN.
A VIN is like a Social Security number, but for a car instead of a person. It’s a unique identifier. A VIN check can reveal a car’s age, make, model and trim, safety recalls, registration and insurance history. All of this is known as a vehicle history report.
The information usually doesn’t come for free — but it can if you know where to look. Following is a look at a few ways to get a vehicle history report for free.
How to find a car’s VIN
Before you can get a vehicle history report, you’ll need to find the VIN of the car. Where this is located varies from car to car. Places to check include:
- On the driver’s side dashboard, close to the windshield
- In the driver’s side door jamb
- On the engine block
It may be easier to locate on the vehicle title or registration, if those are handy. It may also be on auto insurance paperwork.
For cars made since 1981, a VIN is 17 letters and numbers long, with each section representing different information about the vehicle. You’ll need the whole thing. Note that VINs do not use the letters O, I or Q to avoid confusion — what you’re seeing is probably a 0 or 1.
1. National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck
The not-for-profit National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free service called VINCheck that allows five checks per day. You can either type or submit a photo of the VIN.
VINCheck is not a wide-ranging report but will show:
- Any theft claims made through insurance
- If the car was declared a salvage vehicle by participating NICB member insurance companies, a list which includes major insurers
VINCheck does not check law enforcement records so thefts unreported to insurance may not turn up.
VehicleHistory.com offers free used car research, including reports through the VIN or license plate. These reports will show:
- A “detailed” chronological vehicle history (excluding international records)
- Any auctions or incidents the vehicle was involved in
- Sales records with mileage
- Safety recalls and complaints
- Physical features plus mechanical and technical specs
A search engine for used cars, iSeeCars offers five free VIN reports per month with the option to purchase more. Its reports are particularly geared toward active shoppers, and, in addition to the typical info, they include things such as:
- Fair market value analysis
- Condition analysis
- Comparison with similar cars
- Supply and demand for similar cars
- Sales history
- A dealer scorecard that “Analyzes price competitiveness, transparency and responsiveness”
- Depreciation analysis
- When to buy or sell analysis
ISeeCars boasts that its VIN check service has saved users more than $400 million.