How Do I Get a Vehicle History Report?

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Vehicle history reports provide great insight into a used car’s past, giving buyers peace of mind with their purchase. Many dealers provide free vehicle history reports with used vehicles, but if you need to purchase your own, it’ll likely cost between $25 and $40. Some sources provide cheaper reports, but they may not include as much information. For instance, these providers’ vehicle history reports will include helpful details like repair and accident history:

You can also visit the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) website for a list of approved vehicle history report providers. Or check to obtain a report with title, insurance loss, and salvage details. All you’ll need to do is enter the VIN (vehicle identification number) and pay – quick and easy! (Note: The VIN is most often found on the lower corner of the windshield on the driver’s side.)

Those selling used cars, both dealerships and private sellers, benefit from providing a vehicle history report to potential buyers. This not only saves buyers time and money, but shows that they’re not attempting to hide anything.


What is a VIN?

VIN stands for vehicle identification number, a 17-digit code of uppercase letters and numbers unique to each vehicle. The VIN is most often represented as a Code 39 or Data Matrix barcode found on the body or dashboard of a vehicle. Each section of the VIN code provides a specific detail about the vehicle, including its year, make, model, engine size, and the country and factory where it was manufactured. It also offers security features for both owners and auto manufacturers.

This system has been in use throughout the nation since 1954. But VINs were not standardized until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did so decades later in 1981. That said, if a vehicle was produced prior to 1981, the VIN may be shorter than 17 characters.

Where do I find a VIN?

Locating a vehicle’s owner requires you to first find its VIN. Check for it on the car’s registration paperwork, the insurance card, or the vehicle itself. If you cannot find it, contact the DMV.

How do I decode a VIN?

You’ll need to know what each code section represents. The first three digits are the World Manufacturer Identifier. The next five digits are the vehicle descriptor section, and they detail the vehicle’s make, model, and body style. The ninth digit is the security code, used to prevent vehicle theft. The last eight digits are known as the vehicle identification number, containing important information specific to your vehicle model, such as its engine size and manufacturing year. For more assistance, try a VIN Decoder.

What should I look for in a vehicle history report?

Once you have a vehicle history report in hand, ask the following:

  • Has the car been involved in any collisions?
  • How much damage was sustained?
  • Has the car ever been totaled?
  • Has the manufacturer issued any recalls on this model?
  • Does it look as if the odometer has been altered or the mileage is inaccurate?
  • How many owners has the vehicle had?
  • What type of maintenance and repairs have been performed? How frequently?

What should I do after reading the vehicle history report?

A vehicle history report from Carfax or another provider can tell you a lot about a used vehicle’s past. This information can be used to determine whether or not you’re getting a good deal. There are other factors to consider as well. Be sure to get the used vehicle thoroughly inspected by an independent mechanic you trust, even if it has been certified by the dealer. 

Before buying, what else should a car buyer do along with reviewing a vehicle history report?

A vehicle history report is a great resource, but it’s not the only one available! We recommend also doing the following before purchasing a vehicle:

  • Take it for a test drive.
  • Review the maintenance records.
  • Check different sources to determine a fair value..
  • Research the car’s average maintenance and repair costs.

Are paid VIN checks necessary?

Getting the most complete information comes with a cost. But the relatively modest costs are often a wise investment, saving you money on repairs down the road if the vehicle turns out not to be as reliable as it looks.

Carfax is a partner of U.S. News, so you’ll get a free Carfax report on many of the vehicles they list. More thorough reports are available through the Carfax website. On average, a single report costs $44.99, or you can get three for $64.99. For really serious shoppers, a package of five is available for $99.99.

AutoCheck offers basic information for free, including the vehicle make, model and manufacturing country. Paid reports include details about flood, theft or incident damage as well as a numerical score that can be compared to others from the same model year. Paid options include a single report for $24.99, or a bundle of five for $49.99 over a 21-day period. For updated pricing, visit Carfax and AutoCheck directly. 

How can I get a free VIN report for my car?

The National Insurance Crime Bureau offers a free VIN check that reveals whether the vehicle was ever reported stolen or damaged to the point that a salvage title was issued. The NICB offers up to five free VIN checks from one IP address within a 24-hour period, using data supplied by insurance companies.

Who offers the best VIN check reports? 

There are multiple sources that provide legitimate vehicle history reports. The two largest and most reputable providers of paid VIN check reports are Carfax and AutoCheck. 

In addition to basic information also found on free websites, both resources provide any history of recalls, thefts, and crashes – plus a description and overall evaluation. Carfax and AutoCheck reports may even note hail damage, whether the vehicle was leased or has served as a government/police vehicle, and whether there is evidence of odometer tampering.

Is the Carfax VIN check free?

Carfax offers a free VIN search for a range of specific issues, including open recalls, flood damage, and odometer fraud.

Is there a free alternative to Carfax?

There are several other options based on data tied to a car’s VIN or license plate number. These resources are available:

  • Offers a free VIN check service that can help you learn about a vehicle’s past.
  • National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB): Offers VINCheck service with basic information but not a detailed vehicle history report.
  • AutoCheck: Offers a limited report with basic details but not a comprehensive report.
  • VinAudit: Provides a low-cost, detailed vehicle history report, with information regarding accidents, title history, and odometer readings.

Is there a free app to scan VIN?

Yes, there are auto business apps that accurately scan VINs using a mobile device – quick and easy! Check your smartphone or tablet’s app store (Apple App Store and Android App Store).

Can you Google your VIN number?

Yes, with two simple steps. First, visit or NHTSA VIN Decoder and enter the full VIN into NHTSA’s VIN decoder, then click Decode VIN. At the bottom of the page result, you’ll find the manufacturing plant and country of origin listed.

How can I search for a VIN to see who owns a specific car?

Check the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the state where the car is registered or contact a law enforcement agency where the vehicle is currently located. You can also conduct an online search using a service like CarFax or AutoCheck. Be aware that regulations vary from state to state.

Can I share my VIN with someone?

There is no risk to giving out your VIN when selling your car. In fact, it is necessary to getting the best value. 

Is my VIN private information?

VINs are considered personal information. Avoid sharing your VIN publicly to avoid fraudulent use. For instance, scammers can use a single VIN to register dozens of vehicles.

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