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VIN LookupOne of the pitfalls surrounding free VIN lookup services and car history reports is that it still costs money to query the auto repair database, and there are certain privacy concerns when looking up a car's data. As a result, many of these lookups aren't really free, may provide limited information, and may sell your information to third parties. As it turns out, a lot of people would pay good money to know that you are in the market to buy a car!

There are, however, some free VIN lookup services sponsored by states and the federal government in order to help you determine whether your car is up to date on recall issues, and is not stolen. Many sources will also let you check to see if a VIN number is for a salvaged vehicle, or if you have seen a VIN alteration. Flood cars and vehicles that were listed as "totaled" for the purposes of insurance payouts and/or Cash for Clunkers could be getting illegally reintroduced into the marketplace, so checking VIN numbers, even when a modest fee is involved, still beats getting a car that could have severe drivability problems or just can't be registered.

What To Know About VINs

When researching VIN numbers on used cars, try to get the number yourself if at all possible. The VIN is a 17 digit number located on the dashboard near the driver's side, or near the door post for the driver. You should copy it down clearly. Some unscrupulous dealers may keep VINs for "clean" cars to show you a good report, or look it up yourself, but this can't work if you copy down the number yourself.

Free Vehicle Identification Number Services

A standard (paid) paid VIN report will tell you about structural damage, whether airbags were deployed, the number of previous actual owners, and the service records. They may also give you a Kelley Bluebook value. More importantly, you can see if the odometer readings from past owners were higher than what you see currently. Things like hail damage, lemon status, flooding, fire damage, and junk or salvage status might be listed. With reports like CARfax, you can even see service records reported by dealers, so a good report is a selling point upon resale. More recently, credit reporting companies like Experian have moved into the "free VIN check" field, though there may be costs beyond the basic inital report.