Check Vehicle History with Different Providers
Drivers can check vehicle histories by VIN with multiple providers serving both government data collected from state DMVs and private databases. Below is an overview of these options. The choice largely depends on how much detail you want and whether or not your are ready to consider a vehicle with a branded title as a prospective purchase.
Can I check car history at the DMV?
There is no need to travel to the DMV today and it's not even recommended because visiting a DMV office not just takes one's time and trip expenditures but may also be less effective: separate DMV offices may be unable to get the information from other DMV offices where records on a certian VIN might exist and only give you the info they dispose of if your visit them in person. Due to lack of a direct data sharing mechanism between DMV offices title washing incidents, generally known as a cross-state title scam, have taken place even within one and the same state.
You can run the search online and get the DMV data reported and collected statewide. Today almost all the states participate in the NMVTIS ( National Motor Vehicle Title Information System ) program and report all the notable events associated with a given vehicle (VIN) to the federeal database which then provides its data to accredited online vehicle history services. The database has US and Canada vehicle data. The events reported are:
- different types of major damage, expecially if the damage results in the assignment of a branded title to the car
- car registration and title change
- ownership change
- all types of branded titles (Clean, Salvage, Junk, Lemon, Rebuilt, Stolen / Theft, Theft Recovery, Scrap, Dismanteld, Abandoned, Flood / Wateer / Fire / Hail Damage, Vandalism, Strippped and other)
Some time ago many state DMV sites were offering VIN check forms on their websites for a small fee, today the option has been removed on may of them as it was not fast and convenient and sometimes you had to file an entire application to get a very basic title report.
Where do I run vehicle history check online?
There are many websites out there offering car history searches and VIN reports. Most will pull their data from the above mentioned federal NMVTIS database but the information will be organized differently, so usabilty, interactivity and readabilty of their reporpts may differ. Some provide extra sections in their reports, like glossary and tips on reading and understanding reports and found records, or their own estimate of the car quality and its market value based on the report data. But all the history events and dates should be the same. These sites are listed at the NMVTIS website as official distributors of their reports. Please note that NMVTIS webisite no longer serves VIN checks directly on its websire and on the websites providing NMVTIS reports the costs vary from 2$ to 20$ per report.
The exceptions are CARFAX are Autocheck, these are private companies with their own databases and data sources.
A tip: your can buy the so called unlimited reports with many providers. They are more expensive than a single report but if your want to check, say, 10 vehicles, you may get a full-fledged history report for each dirt cheap.
Should I use CARFAX or Autocheck?
Both CARFAX and Autocheck are great and very reputable vehicle history sources but they are expensive.
CARFAX generally beats Autocheck in car history and services records, Autocheck better covers some of less common vehicle types like trailers, RVs, ATVs or trucks.
If you only want title assignment records with title names and dates, and well as odometer readings on those dates, a NMVTIS report should be enough. If a vehicle has had any branded title it will end up in the NMVTIS report. What your won't find is service and some minor accident records or those that didn't result in a total loss claim. Another point, if an VIN report shows no records besides 1 registration event it is interpreted as a clean history and not a "low quality or fake report". What with one porvider may be presented as a detailed and interactive "pass check" for a long list of major branded titles that the vehicle checks out successfully, with another provider is just an "empty report" where absense of problem records is assumed if none are listed. It's just about the way the same data from government sources is "wrapped and presented" or in other words marketed to the user.
Another bonus you get from CARFAX and Autocheck is a buy-back warranty these companies grant your when you make your buying decision based on their reports obtained on their websites. The instances with branded title records missing from their reports are extremely rare. You can preview a number of records available in each report for a VIN for free and buy a report only if your belive it makes sense. It is unlikely that your need such a report if the vehciel has a clean and clear title and the history shows just 1 record - that will be the registration record. Until recently CARFAX was providing free Lemon check on their website. You can find more in our How to Understand VIN reports article.
In any case, these reports are highly recommened after initial checks with the DMV database but before you make your final decision because even a clean title may have history problems, like accidents with an airbag deplyoment without a total loss and so missing from NMVTIS data. That may leave drivers unprotected and put thier lives at risk as you want to make sure the airbag has been installed and is fully functional.
It makes sense to get all the 3 report types before you order an inspection. If it's too expentive start with NMVTIS and get a CARFAX in the end if your vehicle type is a car. For other vehicle types Autocheck may have more records.
Salvage and other auctions
These don't proive vehicle history, only current title status (sometiems no title is available, just a certificate), damage type if applicabale and images which are really valuable. However, some auction sites may feature some or all of the above reports with their lots for the open public.
Where to check it free?
The options for free checks are very limited, find more info on free options here.