Shopping Used Cars? Here’s How To Get A Free Vehicle History Report

These reports will give you a lot of free information about that car you're about to buy!

A lot of decision making goes into purchasing a car. You’re spending a lot of money, and you’ll likely rely on your car daily to get where you need to go, so it’s essential that you’re happy with the purchase.

If you’ve opted to buy a used car, you’ll want to be extra sure you know what you’re getting into, and that there are no major surprises once the vehicle becomes yours. One great way to look under the hood — without actually, you know, having a mechanic look under the hood — is to access the VIN (vehicle identification number) report.

mechanic car photo
Getty Images | Justin Sullivan

The VIN report is so important because it gives you a lot of information about the history of the vehicle, such as if it’s been stolen or recovered, as well as if it’s been damaged in a crash, flood or fire. It will also give you the mileage and information on prior owners. Sometimes you may also be able to see maintenance records.

There are some red flags to look out for, such as the car having multiple owners in short periods of time or multiple failures of emissions test. Knowing these facts can help you avoid buying a possible lemon.

car accident photo
Getty Images | Doug Pensinger

While you can pay to access a car’s VIN report through services like Carfax and AutoCheck, there are ways to access the report for free on your own, which is particularly useful if you’re not going through a dealer. Three such options are the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and

All you have to do is enter the car’s VIN number at these sites to get your free report. While in some cases, these reports may have less detail than those you’d receive through a paid service, you can still get much of the most valuable information, such as current state of title, last title date, brand history, odometer reading, total loss history and salvage history.

[h/t: Clark Howard]