How to check secondhand vehicle history: check car VIN

Check vehicle history check car VIN

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This guide outlines how to check vehicle history of any car, truck, motorbike or trailer using the VIN number.

A car, even a used one, is a large purchase that must be taken seriously. How can you be sure the seller is truthful? What if the car has been involved in an accident, stolen, or damaged in a flood? You will never know for sure until you check vehicle history by running a VIN check.

How to check vehicle history

Give yourself peace of mind with just a few clicks. Here is how.

The VIN, or vehicle identification number, is a sequence of 17 letters and digits. It is unique for every car, and has been used in the United States since 1981. The online service provided by FaxVIN gives users complete history reports based on VINs, so they can immediately spot any discrepancies.

Do All Vehicles Have VINs? 

These numbers are assigned to every car, truck, motorcycle, or trailer produced in the US since 1981. While the identifiers were introduced in 1954, they did not follow the same pattern until the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved the 17-character code. 

Every vehicle gets its identifier on the production line. This code may not be changed legally, with only a few exceptions (for example, importing of foreign cars or a restoration of vintage vehicles). For this reason, the number is always found on non-removable parts — sometimes, in several places. It is rarely found on the exterior, where it can be easily damaged.

What Does VIN Contain?

The sequence includes digits and letters with the exception of I, O, and Q, as they are often confused with numerals. The string is read from left to right. Each of the 17 positions refers to a specific piece of information. 

  • Character 1: the country of origin
  • Character 2: the manufacturer
  • Character 3: type or manufacturing division
  • Characters 4-8: model, body type, transmission, engine and restrain system
  • Character 9: the check digit 
  • Character 10: the model year
  • Character 11: the manufacturing plant
  • Characters 12-17: production sequence

Check car VIN: How to find the VIN location

The exact location varies depending on the manufacturer and country of origin. If you are not sure, you can always reach out to the carmaker. You may also be able to find details of VIN placement on their official website.

For passenger cars, the most common location is on the dashboard from the driver’s side. If you cannot see this area clearly from inside, get out of the car and look through the windscreen. If the indicator is not there, it may be on the side door pillar on the driver’s side. Look closely at the area of connection between the door and the body of the vehicle. Sometimes, VINs are imprinted on the engine or the inside of the hood. 

Note that VINs on vintage cars (produced from 1954 to 1980) are different. Moreover, you may find parts of the same code in different places (the engine, the transmission, etc.). Most commonly, the sequence is imprinted on the identification plate under the hood.

Buying a Used Car

Every prospective buyer has the right to run a VIN check before concluding the deal. While the free decoding service will decipher the 17 characters in the code, and in-depth VIN check will produce a report with a wealth of information, so you can see:

  • if the car has ever been involved in any accidents,
  • what odometer readings have been reported,
  • if there have been any manufacturer recalls or defects,
  •  if the car has been repossessed or rented,
  • if it has been stolen and recovered,
  • if it has been damaged by water, fire, or hail,
  • if the mileage has been rolled back,
  • the genuine vehicle specs,
  • if the car has ever been used as a police vehicle or a taxi,
  • service history,
  • inspections, and 
  • registration history.

After you enter the VIN number and click on the “check” button, the system will connect to several databases. The sources include the U.S. Motor Vehicle Title System (NMVTIS), auto and salvage auctions, dealerships, manufacturers, insurance companies, etc.

Check vehicle history: How to detect VIN tampering

Car thieves replace VIN numbers to sell stolen vehicles. In this case, the identifier from a clean car is transferred to the stolen property. Criminals choose a vehicle of the same model that was produced in the same year with identical characteristics. Then, they create a new VIN plate to replace the old one, and forge the accompanying documents.

Unless you run the check, you may end up buying a car that will be confiscated. When you try to insure the vehicle, the authorities will see that it has already been insured by another owner. In this case, all you can do is sue the seller if you can find them. 

You may also notice different VINs on different parts of the same car. This means that you are looking at a “cut and shut” vehicle, which includes the rear of one car and the front of another. This is a major red flag. 

Other uses of VIN

VINs have many other uses besides background checks. For example, insurance companies use them to connect a specific vehicle to insurance coverage. The codes are also used for sourcing of spare parts and assigning of traffic tickets. 

Vehicle repair shops use the codes to find out information about spare parts, such as brakes, engines, and transmission systems. Law enforcement uses VINs to find stolen vehicles. For buyers of second-hand vehicles, in-depth VIN checks are vital as they prevent expensive mistakes.

Also learn how to estimate the value of a car, whether you are buying or selling it.