If you’re looking for a used car, there’s a lot to be suspicious of, especially if you’re not a car person. Fortunately, VIN’s (Vehicle Identification Numbers) make it easy to verify the information sellers are giving you and allows you to peek into the history of any car you’re considering.

1. Where do you find the VIN?

Usually, you’ll find your VIN on your dashboard. A quick search of your car’s make and model will help you find the exact location of the number. The VIN is also on the Statement of Compliance label, which is on the driver side of all original (from the manufacturer) doors.

VIN’s are also on your ownership certificate and your vehicle insurance certificate.

2. What’s the difference between a VIN decoder & VIN check?

VIN’s are designed to act like identification cards for cars. The 17-digit number makes it easy to extract all kinds of information about a car without having to inspect it personally.

A VIN Decoder gives you information on the construction of the car. A VIN decoder will inform you of the vehicle year, body & drive type, engine, manufacturing country, transmission and even the plant it came from. Think of the VIN decoder as a way to find out about how the car was assembled.

On the other hand, VIN check tools are designed to give you information on a car after it has had a few owners. A VIN check will inform you if the vehicle has been stolen, if it has been reported as salvage, if it’s been flagged as a “lemon” and serves as a way to validate the current owner.

VIN check tools are excellent for verifying the information the seller is giving you and ensuring there are no red flags in the vehicle’s history.

3. What information does a VIN history report contain?

A vehicle history report is what most people are looking for when talking about a VIN lookup. This is a paid lookup that pulls information from National databases.

The history report will tell you things like how many owners the car has had, information on accidents the car has been involved with and the history of maintenance and repairs.

The vehicle history report gives you a detailed look at what the previous owners did with the car. Remember that a history check can’t give you the full story, only what’s been reported. The final step after reviewing the history is an in person mechanical inspection.

4. What does a bad report look like?

After assembling all the information from the different VIN lookups, you’ll need to be able to interpret the data. Just to quickly recap, if you need information on the make and model of the car then you need a VIN decoder. If you want to verify what the person selling the car is telling you, then you need to perform a VIN check.

5. When reviewing the VIN history report, stay away from cars that:

  • Have had multiple accidents
  • Have reports of water damage
  • Are being sold but have been reported as salvage
  • Have money owing on them

With all of these tools available to you, there’s no reason to invest in a used car blindly. The VIN check tools are an excellent way to help you find out if the person selling the car is being sincere. If you ask a seller for the VIN and they refuse to give it to you, chances are they are hiding something.

You can get the VIN decoder & VIN check done for free, but you’ll almost always have to pay for a complete VIN history report. Be wary of companies or people claiming they can get you a full report for free.