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Never Buy a Used Car without Pulling a VIN Report

used cars lined up in a used car lot
Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

For many people, buying a used car is a great way to purchase a new-to-them vehicle without paying a premium price for something that’s right off the lot. But to protect yourself from headaches, you need to pull a VIN report on the car before you purchase it.

What’s a VIN Report?

Every car has a VIN, a Vehicle Identification Number, which is a string of characters that act as the car’s unique identifier. The VIN is kind of like a social security number: it identifies an individual vehicle.

They also help trace a car’s history: any maintenance professionals who work on your vehicle are supposed to update its VIN report, so there’s a record of what happens to the car.

Why Is a VIN Report Important?

A VIN report gives a detailed history for every single car. You’ll be able to see when it got maintenance if it got into any accidents and if there are any open claims on the car—like a claim of theft or damage from a flood.

Pulling a VIN report when you buy a used car is important so that you know exactly what’s happened to a particular vehicle, what state the title of the vehicle is in, and whether or not it is safe to purchase the car.

How to Get a VIN Report

You can get a VIN report in a number of ways. There are both paid and free options.

CarFax offers a premium VIN reporting service. There are also free resources like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. CarFax’s option is the most robust; the other two options offer limited information.

For a more in-depth look at how to check a car’s VIN report, visit this article.

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females. Read Full Bio »

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