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What is a VIN Lookup?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

What is a VIN Lookup?

David Bloom
June 7, 2006

The VIN Lookup is a colloquial term that refers to checking a used vehicle's history to gauge whether or not you should buy it. It is also referred to as a Vehicle History Report. However you label it, it is an integral part of the used car buying process.

Shopping for a used car can be a daunting task. Even when you find a few that look good, you never really know what you're getting into. Someone looking to sell might be withholding valuable information such as a previous accident or an odometer problem, and you might not be able to tell just by looking at the car or driving it around for a bit.

That's where the VIN Number Lookup comes into play. Every vehicle built after 1981 has a unique 17-character alphanumeric vehicle identification number (VIN). You can think of it as a car's fingerprint. Every time an accident is reported to the insurance companies, the car changes owners, or anything else occurs with the automobile, it goes into the DMV database. From the very first registration until the last renewal and everything in between...all of this vital information is stored.

The VIN Lookup, or Vehicle History Report, allows you to tap into this vast database BEFORE you purchase the car, so you know exactly what you're getting into. All you need is the VIN, which you can request from the current owner. Using this sequence, you can get a VIN Lookup report from Carfax or Autocheck, two leaders in the automotive industry.

What will the report tell you? Hidden problems such as persistent mechanical issues, odometer tampering, fire or hail damage and severe damage. Other pieces of information on the VIN Number Lookup include DMV transactions, ownership transfers, mileage readings and vehicle specs. Everything you need to know before you make the final decision will be included in your vehicle history report.

So if you're in the market for a used car, remember to perform a VIN Lookup using the vehicle identification number first...you'll be glad you did.

David Bloom is a contributor to many automotive sites, including VIN Lookup and VIN Number check, among others.

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