How to Check a Car's History

This is a guide on how to check a car's history, including the best websites to check through. To get the best deal on a car, use a VIN lookup and check for accidents, flood damage, or a salvage title.
Written by Cheryl Knight
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Checking the vehicle history report for a car you
plan on buying
is an important part of the buying process.
Not only does a vehicle history report let you know if a particular car has been in an accident, it can also tell you if the car in question has suffered
water damage
from a flood or has received a salvage title since it was first bought.
Read on to learn how to do a proper vehicle history check, compiled by
Jerry
.
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What are the best car history report websites?

When searching for a vehicle history report on a car you have an interest in buying, you can choose from a few options. Some of the more popular websites include
Carfax
,
AutoCheck
, and the
National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS)
.
  • Carfax: The most well-known car history site, Carfax, charges $39.99 for one report, while three cost $79.99 and five cost $99.99. Carfax's reports include extensive car history details, including maintenance reports, whether a vehicle has had multiple owners, and the number and severity of any accidents the car has been involved in.
  • AutoCheck: AutoCheck uses a scoring system, from 70 to 90, to rate vehicles according to similar vehicles. Each vehicle make and model on the AutoCheck system also receives a score range. The vehicle score places it within a range that determines how good or bad of a buy it is. AutoCheck reports cost $24.99 for a single report, $49.99 for 25 reports in a 21-day period, and $99.99 for 300 reports.
  • NMVTIS: NMVTIS collects data from various state motor vehicle registries, car insurance companies, junkyards, and salvage yards. With prices ranging from free to $10 per report, the reports from the NMVTIS provide the location of vehicle registration and whether the vehicle has a branded title, which means the vehicle's title has received a salvage, flood damage, or other designation.
  • Dealership: Many dealerships offer a free Carfax or other vehicle history report with the cars they sell on the lot. Take advantage of this, and if a particular car does not have a vehicle history report attached to it, request one.

How to check car history

You can easily check a vehicle history report by visiting one of the online sites mentioned above. To conduct a car history check, you need the
Vehicle Identification Number
(VIN) to do a VIN lookup, which you can find on the inside of the driver's side door or in the bottom corner of the front windshield on the driver's side.
Once you know the VIN, complete the following steps:
Step 1: Enter the VIN online. On the car history website, enter the VIN in the appropriate field. Alternately, you can enter the license plate number and state to pull up vehicle information for the selected car.
Step 2: Select package. Depending on the site, select the appropriate package. Most often this includes a package for a single report, multiple reports, or an unlimited option for a specific number of days.
Step 3: Select payment. Select how you want to pay for the package you selected. This includes your credit card or PayPal information, cardholder name, and billing address.
Step 4: Print your car history report. The initial vehicle history for the first VIN you entered should now come up. Make sure to print the report for your records or download the report to your computer, especially if you decide to purchase any of the vehicles you run a report on.
Running a car history check on any vehicle you plan on buying can help you determine if the vehicle was in an accident, declared a total loss, or given a salvage title. This can help save you the expense of investing in a vehicle that has a bad mark on its report.
If you find something alarming about the car's history, bring it up with the seller or dealership. It could be the case that the car has since been fixed. But if you suspect the car could be a bad deal, don't feel bad about walking away.
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