How to Check a Car's History

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Before buying a used vehicle, you should run a vehicle history check to make sure there are no major accidents, flood damage, or a salvage title attached to the vehicle. You have a few options available when doing so, including getting a vehicle history from the dealer or their website or looking up the vehicle history yourself.

Method 1 of 2: On the dealer's website

Materials Needed

  • Desktop computer or laptop
  • Pencil and paper
  • Printer

As more dealers put their entire stock of vehicles online, you can now find a particular vehicle's car history report fairly easily. On many dealer sites, accessing the vehicle history report is just a mouse click away - for free.

  • Tip: On a related note, some sellers on online auction sites, such as eBay, offer free vehicle history reports with their listings. While not all eBay sellers offer this service, they do give you the option to pay for a vehicle history report through a link on the listing.

Step 1: Search online. Enter the used car dealer's website address in your web browser. If you do not have any particular dealership in mind, you can just perform a general search for used cars and a variety of sites should come up.

carfax link circled
Image: BMW Mountain View

Step 2: Check out the car listings. Once on a site that offers free vehicle history reports, peruse the listings available. When you find a used vehicle that interests you, look for a link to the vehicle history report.

carfax bmw report
Image: Carfax

Step 3: Click the link. Navigate to the report on the vehicle history.

From there you can check out such things as how many owners the vehicle has had, the odometer reading, and a vehicle and title history, including any accidents the vehicle has been in and if the vehicle has a salvage title attached to the title.

Step 4: Look at other cars. You can then look at other vehicle history reports for listings you are interested in. When you find a vehicle you like, print the vehicle history report out from the vehicle history site.

Method 2 of 2: Perform the vehicle history report search yourself

Materials Needed

  • Desktop computer or laptop
  • Pencil and paper
  • Printer
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • License plate number (if you do not have the VIN)

Another option, and one that can get expensive if you perform a lot of vehicle history searches, is to do it yourself. When pulling up a vehicle history report yourself, you need the vehicle's VIN.

Step 1: Enter the web address of the vehicle history site you want to use. Some commonly used sites include Carfax, AutoCheck, and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.

Image: Carfax

Step 2: Enter the VIN. Once you are on the site you want to use, enter either the VIN or the license plate number and state in the fields provided.

Double check the VIN or license plate number to make sure it is correct before pressing enter.

Image: Carfax

Step 3: Enter your payment information. Once you press enter, the site takes you to the payment screen where you enter your payment information.

Most sites offer a single or multiple vehicle history report package, as well as unlimited reports for so many days.

  • Tip: You can get a free Carfax by looking up similar cars at nearby dealerships. Carfax lists these vehicles in a format similar to classified ads, and there is a button with every car that will show the Carfax report for that car.

Step 4: Print the report. After entering the package you want and the payment information, you should then get a vehicle history report attached to the VIN or license plate number you entered.

You should print this vehicle history report out and add them to your records if you decide to purchase the used vehicle in question.

Regardless of whether the dealership offers a free vehicle history report or if you have to pay for it yourself, you should always get a used vehicle checked out by a trusted mechanic. You can call one of our experienced mechanics to perform a pre-purchase car inspection to ensure any used car is working properly.


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Chris

21 years of experience
1719 reviews
Chris
21 years of experience
Lexus ES300 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Garden Grove, California
Very professional, but although cool in a sense. On time actually arrived at site earlier than expected that was a plus. Also very thorough, and gave recommendations. Thanks alot Chriss.
Jaguar F-Type - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Mission Viejo, California
If I could give Chris 100 stars I would. Above and beyond in every way. He's super knowledgeable, informative, responsive and above all patient. He doesn't hesitate to make sure all your questions are answered and that you feel comfortable taking the plunge buying a car sight unseen. He was our eyes when we couldn't be there to inspect the car, and informed us of any red flags regarding how the car operates now and what to look for in the future. Ask for Chris, he's fantastic, an expert in automotive knowledge, and a first class professional.

Willie

23 years of experience
28 reviews
Willie
23 years of experience
Hyundai Elantra - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Stanton, California
Had Will inspected two Hyundai Elantra SE at different dealers. He was prompt and provided great feedback on the cars. Really value his experience and recommendation. We're highly satisfy with Will and his service.
Dodge Avenger - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Long Beach, California
Willie is a hard and reliable worker. Fixed the problem. 3rd experience with him I think. Very satisfied

Raymond

36 years of experience
155 reviews
Raymond
36 years of experience
Ford Explorer - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Las Vegas, Nevada
Very happy with the pre-inspection service. He was in contact from when he left to when he arrived at dealership to a FULL Sheet of info right after the inspection. Raymond helped make me feel at ease buying the car after having his professional opinion that everything was good. The one thing he did recommend I mentioned to the dealership and they took care of it before I even bought the car. :) Thanks so much for your expertise. I would definitely use this website again for any future services I may need.
Subaru Baja - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Las Vegas, Nevada
Raymond was early, Very Professional, & very thorough. Answered all my questions and was very informative. Did an Excellent job !

David

12 years of experience
287 reviews
David
12 years of experience
Honda CR-V - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Marietta, Georgia
Prompt and knowledgeable. David arrived early to do our pre-purchase car inspection and completed it in a timely fashion. He communicated his findings, recommendations by phone and text message, which was nice. I appreciated the information and details he provided.
Mercedes-Benz E400 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Kennesaw, Georgia
David called when he arrived and called shortly after he finished inspecting the vehicle. Unfortunately, due to the inefficiency of the sales representative at the dealership, David was not able to drive the vehicle as the final phase of the inspection.

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