Buying a car requires a lot of research. Buyers research safety records, read reviews, look for specific features, and test drive a car before buying it. One of the many steps during the research process should be to look up a car’s VIN.
By doing a VIN check, a buyer can get a look at the vehicle’s history including previous accidents or damage caused by natural disasters like a flood.
What is a VIN number?
Every car has a 17-digit VIN, or vehicle identification number. The series of numbers and letters make up the car’s unique VIN. No two cars have the same VIN, which is why they’re used to track a specific car’s history.
While the long number may seem random, each number or letter represents information about the car and provide the following information:
- Build location
- Type of car and features
- Check digit (used to ensure the VIN is valid)
- Model year
- Build factory
- Serial number
To understand what a VIN means, a VIN decoder is needed.
Where can I find the VIN?
The VIN for each vehicle is physically etched into the car or truck and can be in several different places depending on the model. The VIN is usually a small plate or a sticker with a barcode above the series of numbers and letters.
To find the VIN, look on the:
- Bottom of the driver’s side window
- Driver’s side door jamb
The VIN is also listed on the title and on the insurance card.
What’s the history of VINs?
In 1951, automakers started putting VINs on cars, trucks, and SUVs. At the time, there wasn’t a standard for VINs, so companies created their own format for them.
IN 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States created a standardized practice so every on-road vehicle followed the same set of rules to assign a vehicle its own unique code.
Why do people look up a car’s VIN?
Usually, a car’s VIN is checked by someone who is buying a car. A VIN check is especially helpful when buying a used car since the VIN can provide a vehicle history report with details about the car’s accidents and damage during its lifespan.
What information is provided in a VIN check?
A VIN check provides a wealth of information that a buyer won’t likely be able to see when looking at the car or even test driving it.
A basic VIN check can tell a potential buyer the following information:
- Previous accidents and damage sustained
- Whether the car was ever totaled in an accident
- If the car was ever involved in a flood or fire
- If the car was ever stolen and recovered
- Has a salvaged or branded title, which indicates extensive damage sustained and reported to an insurance company
More advanced VIN checks can provide more information, like:
- Vehicle inspection records
- Safety ratings
- Warranty information
- Vehicle registration and DMV information
All of this information is valuable when buying a car and can sway a buyer’s decision or provide grounds for price negotiation.
Does a dealership provide a VIN check?
Many dealerships do run a report on the car’s VIN and provide that information to the customer. In some cases, dealers pay for memberships to well-known sites like CarFax and provide a report on the vehicle of interest. As a buyer, you can access the same CarFax report through their website and get some of the information for free.
While a report from the dealer can provide extensive information, it’s always best to conduct some research on your own too. After seeing the report at the dealership, go home and try a VIN lookup site to make sure the information on the report you received is valid.
What additional research should you do before buying a car?
Aside from running a VIN check, there’s additional research to do before drive a car off the lot. To make sure buyers make sound decisions, here are a few additional items to research:
Have a budget in mind before going to a dealership. Without a budget in mind, it’s easy to be drawn to a car that’s out of the price range. When you arrive at the dealership, tell them what your budget is and stick to it.
Consider the cost to maintain it
Buying a car means dealing with constant maintenance and gas prices. It’s important to understand the upkeep required on a car and how much gas mileage it gets to ensure that it fits within your budget.
Know how you’ll use it
What will the car be used for? Buying a Nissan Rogue Sport is great for a daily commute to work while a Chevrolet Silverado offers a heavy-duty vehicle for hauling. The make and model of a vehicle will be guided by its intended use.
Know the trade-in value of your current car
Most buyers trade-in a car and put its value towards the purchase of another car, truck, or SUV. Before going to the dealership, look up the value of your car. Most people go by the Kelley Blue Book value. Start there and be prepared for the dealership to negotiate a little.
Vehicles are put through a series of safety tests before they reach consumers, but that doesn’t mean the buyer shouldn’t research a car’s safety ratings and features. Safety features like curtain and console airbags, electronic stability control, safety alert systems, anti-lock brakes, and traction control, can provide a higher level of safety on the road.
The number of features inside a vehicle can vary greatly. Generally, the more features a car has the higher the price tag. As a buyer, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of different features and see if they’re worth the additional cost.