Shopping for a quality pre-owned vehicle can come with difficulties, but accessing certain resources and information about the vehicles in consideration can help make the process much smoother.
Running a vehicle identification number (VIN) check provides valuable insight into a car’s history, such as any reported accidents or service visits that may affect vehicle performance and safety. Obtaining these reports is easy — and often free.
Check Out: What to Look for When Buying a Used Car
What is a VIN?
A unique 17-digit code with letters and numbers assigned to every road vehicle, a VIN is used to identify a specific vehicle and can provide details on the car’s history. Vehicle information garnered from checking the VIN includes the year it was manufactured and where it was originally sold, as well as its make, model, engine type, and more.
Learn More: What is a Vin?
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What do the VIN characters stand for?
The vehicle identification number (VIN) is comprised of 17 characters connected to a specific automobile. Each character represents a different factor relating to the vehicle’s background and history.
Characters 1-3: The first three characters represent the world manufacturer identifier (WMI), which includes the vehicle’s make, manufacturer, and manufacturing location. The first character, for example, represents the country the vehicle was made in, and cars made in the U.S. begin with a 1, 4, or 5.
Characters 4-8: The next five digits tell you the model, body type, restraint system, transmission type, and engine code for the vehicle.
Character 9: Based on a mathematical formula developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the ninth digit is used to detect invalid VINs.
Character 10: The tenth digit represents the model year.
Character 11: The eleventh digit signifies the vehicle’s manufacturing plant.
Characters 12-17: The final six digits are the car’s production sequence numbers assigned to each vehicle on the assembly line.
Why might you check a car’s VIN?
Checking a car’s VIN helps you ensure that the condition of the vehicle you may purchase matches the seller’s description. By running a free VIN check, you can access a wealth of vehicle history information that may affect its performance and safety. You can find out when and by who it was manufactured and the original sale location. You can also find out if the car qualifies for a manufacturer recall, has been salvaged or stolen, or underwent any serious damages as a result of accidents or other vehicle incidents.
In short, a VIN check helps ensure that you invest in a quality vehicle.
11 best options to complete a free VIN check
Many online resources allow you to complete free VIN checks, but some work better than others. Here are the best 11 options for completing a free VIN check so you can make an informed decision when purchasing your next pre-owned vehicle.
National Insurance Crime Bureau
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) offers a free VIN check service to help you determine if a vehicle is stolen or has been reported as a salvage vehicle. This database only includes insurance records from participating insurance companies, so it won’t include information about accidents or other issues not reported to a participating insurance company.
You can either enter the VIN manually or take a photo of it to upload to the system. You can look up a maximum of five VINs in a 24-hour period from your IP address.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is a government agency that allows people to check if the car they want to buy has been affected by a safety recall in the past 15 years without being repaired. You only need to enter the VIN in its system and wait for your report.
Remember that this database provides limited information. It won’t show repaired safety recalls or safety recalls from more than 15 years prior. It also doesn’t have information on international vehicles and some ultra-luxury or specialty vehicles.
VehicleHistory.com is an online service that helps people check a vehicle’s history, including its ownership and repair records. It provides quick and easy access to important information about any given car, including details such as auctions and incidents, historical sales, recalls, and complaints. This site pulls information from a variety of industry and government sources.
iSeeCars is an online service that offers detailed, comprehensive vehicle history reports with a free VIN check. With this service, you can quickly and easily access information on any car, including its market value and average mileage for similar cars. iSeeCars also details the car’s selling history, whether it’s been reported stolen, and any unaddressed safety recalls.
Likely the most well-known provider of vehicle history reports, CARFAX offers free VIN checks that provide fairly limited information. The company basically decodes the VIN to provide information on the car’s country of origin, make, model and trim, model year, assembly plant, and serial number. If you want more detailed information on the vehicle’s history from CARFAX, you unfortunately need to purchase a full report for $44.99.
However, many car dealer websites, as well as sites like AutoTrader.com and Cars.com, now offer free CARFAX reports. So you may find links to free reports when shopping around in a car dealer’s online inventory. You should also be able to ask the dealer for this information when you visit a car lot.
This online service provider offers VIN checks to help people determine a vehicle’s history. Through VINPit’s free VIN check, you can quickly and easily access important information about any given car, such as past owners, mileage accuracy, past accidents or damage, and safety and maintenance recalls.
VINCheckFree provides a free online service VIN check to help you research a vehicle. You can learn about the car’s damage records, ownership history, mileage, and more. Just enter the car’s VIN, and the system will scan through its records database and produce a report.
The free VIN check from EpicVIN works by using a car’s VIN or license plate number. The report will confirm the accuracy of the odometer reading, that the car hasn’t been reported stolen, and reveal any undisclosed or hidden damage. EpicVIN reports can also tell you if the car was previously used as a taxi or rental car.
AutoCheck, owned by Experian, is a comprehensive source for vehicle history reports. The free reports outline vehicle history records and provide a score showing how the vehicle compares to others like it. It also predicts the probability of the vehicle being usable in five years.
If you want more detailed information, you can upgrade to a paid report for $24.99 or buy a package of five reports for $49.99.
Bumper provides free VIN checks to help you obtain detailed information about a particular vehicle’s history through reports compiled from information from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, J.D. Power, the NHTSA, other government agencies, and insurance providers.
Bumper reports include information on the car’s accident history, reports of damage, sales history, any salvage auction history, and estimated costs for maintenance, fuel, and insurance.
Car company decoders
Some car manufacturers and other websites offer VIN decoders. Simple decoders won’t necessarily tell you about the car’s accident and service history, but they can help you verify the legitimacy of the VIN on the car you’re thinking of buying.
A few VIN decoders to try include:
MDecoder: Decodes VINs specifically for BMWs
Ford truck enthusiasts: Decodes VINs for Ford trucks
Toyota: Decodes VINs for Toyota vehicles and provides information on the car’s year, color, technical specifications, and optional equipment installed
Chevrolet forum: Decodes VINs for Chevy vehicles built from 1981 to the present
To compile this list of best options for a free VIN check, we researched numerous available VIN check services. For each free VIN check service, we gave special attention to convenience, vehicle information typically provided, reliability, and legitimacy of the check provider.
See Also: Car Insurance Quotes for Used Cars
Should you pay for a VIN check?
Paying for a vehicle identification number check can supply additional vehicle information that may be worth the extra cost. While you can find some information from a free VIN check, a paid service may provide access to more thorough information about a vehicle’s history, including its past owners, service records, and any accidents or damage that may have occurred.
Additionally, some services may offer additional features, such as tracking a car’s maintenance history and recall data. If you’re only interested in basic information about a vehicle’s history, a free VIN check should suffice.
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How much is a paid VIN check?
The cost of a paid VIN check varies depending on the provider and type of report. A basic report typically costs around $25 to $40, according to Kelley Blue Book. You can usually buy a bundle of five reports for anywhere from $50 to $100. This option can be useful if you want to compare several vehicles at once.
Overall, the cost of a paid VIN check is extremely low compared to the price you’ll pay for a used vehicle. It’s important to do your research and compare different vehicles before making a purchase to ensure you purchase a quality car that matches your needs.
Best free VIN check services FAQs
Here are answers to common questions about free VIN checks, including what they are, how much they cost, and which services offer the best free VIN check.
It may be possible to run a check with a partial VIN, but the report’s information will likely be limited. When running a check with only a partial VIN, some services can’t provide as much information or accuracy as a full VIN check.
The best free VIN check services include Autocheck, Bumper, and CARFAX. These services provide comprehensive reports on the car’s past owners, service records, and any potential issues or damage that may have occurred. Some services offer additional features, such as maintenance tracking and recall data.
When searching for vehicle history information, many people turn to free VIN checks. While many paid services offer comprehensive reports with additional features, some free VIN check options exist.
A VIN check can provide you with a wealth of information about a car’s past. This includes details such as the make and model, year of manufacture, and any recalls or other issues that may have occurred. It can also provide more in-depth information, such as the vehicle’s past owners, service records, and even its performance ratings.
- National Insurance Crime Bureau. "VINCheck® Lookup." Accessed February 28, 2023
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)." Accessed February 28, 2023
- Kelley Blue Book. "Vehicle History Report: Everything You Need to Know." Accessed February 28, 2023
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "VIN Decoder." Accessed February 28, 2023