How to check used car history records by the VIN number

It's never a good idea to buy a used car that has been involved in an accident, was flooded or was used as a rental. Used cars that were previously involved in accidents are more likely to develop mechanical problems or rust later. Cars that were used as daily rentals could have been abused or poorly maintained. Checking a history report from CARFAX® can reveal this information. A CARFAX® history report not only shows reported accidents, it could also tell what part of the vehicle was damaged and whether the airbags were deployed.

VIN number at the left corner of the windshield
Manufacturer sticker
Sample history report
Portion of a sample history report

Odometer fraud is another issue that can be avoided by checking the history report. Even though tampering with odometers is illegal, this practice is still going on. According to the NHTSA, there are approximately 452,000 cases of odometer fraud per year in the United States. The CARFAX® history report also shows the number of previous owners, some service records and states or provinces where the car was previously registered. The report includes safety and reliability ratings, as well as the warranty information. It works in Canada too.

What you need is the vehicle identification number or VIN. It's a 17-character number with letters and digits that you can find in the left front corner of the windshield or on the manufacturing label on the door jamb (see the photos). First, you can check if there are any records available for the car you are interested in, it's free:
Free CARFAX Record Check
It shows you how many records available for the VIN number you enter. If you want to see the records, you need to buy the full report:
Order CARFAX Vehicle History Reports
A single Vehicle History Report™ at CARFAX will cost you $39.99. You can order 5 reports for $49.99 or unlimited reports for $54.99.
You can pay online by credit card.

When you get the report, pay attention to the dates and the corresponding odometer records. If it shows that one year the car was driven for 15,000 miles and another year for only 3,000 miles, you need to check the vehicle more carefully.
Another thing to pay attention to is major repairs like engine or transmission replacement. When it comes to a used car, it's better to buy the one that was maintained well and never had any problems than the one that had an engine or transmission replaced.
Of course, keep in mind that if the history report doesn't show any "bad" records, you still need to thoroughly check the vehicle yourself and have it inspected by a mechanic. This is because not all accidents are reported and the mechanical condition of the vehicle can only be verified by a mechanical inspection; things like engine or transmission condition are also important, but they are not marked in the history report. Read our used car checklist with photos for tips on how to spot some potential problems.