How to Check a Car's History

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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Recent Pre-purchase Car Inspection reviews

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4,847
184
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Attila

19 years of experience
906 reviews
Attila
19 years of experience
Cadillac SRX V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Edison, New Jersey
Attila was great! Very knowledgeable and actually detected a fault during a pre-purchase inspection that would have cost me later.
Lexus ES350 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Fords, New Jersey
He is very good—offered all the significant details we needed from the inspection. Helped us figure out what needed to be fixed.

Shawn

12 years of experience
285 reviews
Shawn
12 years of experience
Chevrolet Impala V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Shawn was prompt, professional, and delivered the promised service as expected. This was a used vehicle pre-purchase inspection. Shawn also had to drive to multiple locations to perform the inspection, as the address listed that I provided him with was not accurate, but he still made it to the correct location within his time window and completed the inspection.
Toyota Sequoia - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Akron, Pennsylvania
Shawn was very prompt in communicating with me and was good at helping me decide whether to purchase a used car. He help me avoid a car with a repaired rusted frame that could be a danger to my family's safety since we were planning on using the car to tow a travel trailer!

Luis

18 years of experience
320 reviews
Luis
18 years of experience
Honda HR-V L4-1.8L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Warren, New Jersey
Luis was great. He showed up on time, acted professionally, and gave me confidence with a pre-purchase car inspection.
Acura RDX - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - South Hackensack, New Jersey
Luis did a thorough pre-purchase inspection for me, and found several major issues that made me pass on buying the car. Had I purchased the car, I almost certainly would have ended up paying thousands in repairs down the road. Thanks Luis!

Robert

20 years of experience
1089 reviews
Robert
20 years of experience
Hyundai Elantra L4-2.0L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Englewood, Colorado
He did a pre-purchase inspection for me. He was knowledgeable and fast, and knew what he was looking for. I really appreciate all the pictures and documentation he took of the state of the car before purchase. He noted potential issues with the car that I wouldn't have been able to notice. Would recommend.
GMC Savana 1500 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Golden, Colorado
I trust Robert. He gave me a list and we will take care of it the week of June 29. I will know then that my vehicle is ready for the winter and is safe to drive. I look forward to getting things ready for another winter of careful driving.

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