3 Ways to Get a Free VIN Check Before Buying a Used Car

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There are more ways than ever to get a free VIN check on a vehicle. You can even get one on your current ride if you’re just curious about its history before you owned it.

Free VIN checks typically list a car’s registrations by state, type of title and whether anyone’s made an insurance claim on the vehicle following an accident.

Here’s Where to Get a Completely Free VIN Check!

There are a variety of services you can use for a completely free VIN check before you buy a used car.

Getting a VIN check is especially important if you’re buying a car through Craigslist or eBay and there’s no dealership to provide free access to pay sites like CARFAX, AutoCheck or autoDNA.com.

There are a number of competitors in the world of free vehicle history reports. Have you heard of the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), VehicleHistory.com or iSeeCars.com/VIN?

Just pop in your car’s digits and these sites will do the VIN lookup and give you information on the vehicle.

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National Insurance Crime Bureau

National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) free VINCheck shows vehicles reported lost or stolen, salvaged and declared a total loss. Limit of 5 free VIN reports per day.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB.org) keeps it simple with its VIN check search tool. The site will tell you if your vehicle has been:

  • Reported as lost or stolen
  • Salvaged
  • Declared a total loss following an accident

This is the most basic of the completely free VIN checks you can get, and this site is limited to five searches within a 24-hour period per IP address.

NICB free VIN report offers info on theft record and total loss record when you're buying a used car.

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VehicleHistory

Vehicle History free VIN report offers fuel economy, cost to own, selling history, recalls, best time to buy and more.

For a more complete VIN lookup, VehicleHistory is a free option that provides other data like fuel economy, cost to own and price analysis.

Other things you’ll get in this free VIN lookup include:

  • Selling history
  • Current recall info
  • Detailed list of the expiration of manufacturer warranties
  • Price predictions about the best time to buy a particular make and model

Vehicle History free VIN report detailed vehicle history, historical sales listings, NHTSA recalls & complaints, vehicle specs and more.

iSeeCars

iSeeCars free VIN report offers market value, price analysis, accident history, projected depreciation and more. Limit 5 searches per month.

iSeeCars offers another robust free VIN check experience. Culling 200 data points, your free car history report from iSeeCars includes the following:

  • Price analysis
  • Price history
  • Projected depreciation
  • The best times to buy and sell

iSeeCar free VIN report offers price, estimated market value, price vs. mileage graph, free recall cehck, free theft check, projected depreciation and more.

How to Decode Your VIN

VINs (vehicle identification numbers) come in two lengths:  17 characters or 11 characters. Every motor vehicle that’s on the road today has a unique VIN.

While a VIN may seem like a meaningless string of numbers, there are a few keys to decoding it.

VIN decoder explains country of origin, manufacturer & division, vehicle description, manufacturer's safety code, model year, assembly plant identifier and plant sequential number.

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  • The first character of your VIN indicates country of origin.
  • The second and third characters tell you manufacturer and division.
  • The fourth through eighth characters indicate vehicle description, safety and type of engine.
  • The ninth character is the manufacturer’s security code.
  • The 10th character tells you the vehicle’s model year.
  • The 11th character is the assembly plant identifier.
  • Characters 12 through 17 are the plant sequential number/vehicle serial number.

Clark’s Key Rules of Used-Car Buying

If you’re searching for a free VIN report, chances are you’re looking to buy a used car. According to money expert Clark Howard, buying used can be a smart move for your wallet. But it does come with some possible pitfalls you’ve got to watch out for.

Here’s what you need to know after you pull a free vehicle history report but before you buy.

Have a Mechanic Check the Vehicle Before Purchase

Auto repair shop

It is possible that a free VIN check could come back clean with no accidents even though the car has clearly had major repairs.

This would be likely if a previous owner paid for repairs out of pocket instead of making an insurance claim. So use these services as a tool, but don’t rely on the information to be 100% accurate.

For real peace of mind when you’re buying a used vehicle, you’ve got to hire an independent mechanic to take a look at the vehicle before you agree to buy it.

The reality is that all used cars are sold “as is,” whether by a private seller or a licensed dealer unless they come with a written warranty. Worse yet, the seller is not required by law to be honest about the condition of the vehicle.

For that reason, one of Clark Howard’s key rules of used car buying is to get an inspection from a certified diagnostic mechanic before you buy. If you leave a deposit on the vehicle, make sure you get it in writing that the seller will return your deposit if the car doesn’t check out. Clark says you’ll eliminate nine out of 10 used car buying disasters this way.

When looking for an independent mechanic, you want to see ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification. Garages that participate in what’s called the Blue Seal program typically feature the most highly trained ASE-certified mechanics. Visit ASE.com to find one near you.

Watch Out for Hidden Flood Damage

flood car

In the aftermath of any major hurricane or widespread flooding, you have to worry about flooded vehicles entering the used car market. Following Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of thousands of vehicles were rebuilt and had their titles “washed,” Clark notes.

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That’s when dishonest people take flooded vehicles into certain states where they can easily modify the titles. This removes any evidence that a vehicle was ever in a flood. Cars with washed titles can then be sold to dealerships that either don’t know or don’t care that they’re buying flooded vehicles.

These cars often end up in the hands of “curb stoners,” illegal dealers who run ads in the paper. They pretend they’re selling their sister’s car or their mother’s car and they hope you don’t know what they know. About 20% of these cars go to unsuspecting people overseas. Clark says the other 80% stay right here at home.

To the naked eye, there’s usually no way to tell what’s wrong with these cars. But you’ll know you’ve got a flood car when you encounter failed electrical systems throughout the vehicle.

Again, it all comes back to the need for a good diagnostic mechanic to thoroughly inspect the car before you buy it!

Final Thought

Getting a free VIN check from the sites listed here is a great first step to take when you’re thinking about buying a used vehicle. In fact, you may want to run the VIN through all three and see what comes back.

All the data you get back on your free VIN reports should match up across providers. If there’s no match, that’s a potential sign that the vehicle has undergone VIN forgery, and that should certainly give you pause before you move ahead with the purchase.

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