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What is a VIN?
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About this Website
We are an association of consumer advocates that are sick and tired of the dirty business practices of used vehicle dealers.

We outline ways for working class Americans to avoid buying lemons, suffering financial loss and excess emotional distress at the hands of a greedy used vehicle dealership. Order a full Vehicle History Report

vehicle history Resources
Visit our new vehicle history resources page to find helpful online resources. Get information on buying a used vehicle or legal help for dealing with a lemon.

By doing a little research on a used vehicle before buying, you can potentially save a large sum of money.

Vehicle History FAQ

Our Vehicle History and Lemon Car FAQ

Vehicle History Guide

  1. What is a Lemon Vehicle ?

  2. What is a Vehicle History Number?

  3. Where do I find a Vehicle History VIN Number?

  4. What is Vehicle History Reports?

  5. Where can I get a Vehicle History Report?

  6. What will I get from a Vehicle History Report?

  7. Why should I buy Vehicle History Reports?

  8. How far back do the Vehicle History databases go?

  9. What is Vehicle Odometer Fraud?

  10. Should I buy a single Vehicle History report or the multiple report option?

  11. What should I do if the Vehicle History report shows potential problems?

  12. Where can I get a vehicle history report with Canadian data?

  13. What other research should I do before I buy a used vehicle?

  14. Are there other options to protect me from vehicle history problems?

What is a Lemon?

Basically, a lemon is a vehicle that had so many mechanical problems that the manufacturer bought it back. States have their own lemon laws, so the exact circumstances vary. Try searching online for "lemon law" to get more info or visit has some good state-by-state info. A Vehicle History FAQ for lemons and lemon checks

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What is a VIN Number?

A VIN (short for "Vehicle Identification Number") is a seventeen-digit code that uniquely identifies a vehicle. Every vehicle, truck, motorcycle, trailer, etc. that is built is assigned a VIN and DMVs and insurance companies use the VIN to keep track of which vehicle is which.

The VIN encodes specific information about a vehicle, including country of manufacture, manufacturer, model, body style and even engine and other information. This was standardized in the early '80s and all major manufacturers follow the standard.

If you're interested in how VINs work, check out this online VIN decoder. It shows you where the different info is encoded. Or see this explanation.

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Where do I find a VIN Number?

A lot of used vehicle websites include a VIN in their for-sale listings. When you're shopping online, find the VIN and cut and paste it into the VIN form. Get the unlimited version of the report so you can screen as many VINs as you need to.

If there's no VIN listed in the newspaper or website ad, contact the seller and ask for it before you go see the vehicle. You could save yourself a lot of time by avoiding problem vehicles.

You can also get the VIN from the vehicle itself. A VIN is visible on the lower right hand (driver's side) corner of the dash when looking through the front windshield. The VIN is also printed on registrations, titles and proof of insurance vehicleds.

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What is a Vehicle History Report?

A vehicle history report is the quickest and easiest way to research the history of a vehicle. It gathers all of a vehicle's insurance and DMV records into one place. At a glance, you can tell if there are major accidents, odometer problems, flood damage issues or if the vehicle is a lemon.

With this info in hand, you can make an informed purchase decision AND negotiate the best price.

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Where can I get a Vehicle History Report?

Several companies gather the data and sell these reports online: Consumer Guide, CARFAX and AutoCheck.

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What will I get from a Vehicle History Report?

A vehicle history report will tell you one of two things about the vehicle's history:

  • That it's CLEAN: history records for clean vehicles might show the title being renewed or issued several times. Where states require them, you might see emissions or safety test passes. If it's a newer vehicle, there might only be a couple of records.

  • That it has POTENTIAL PROBLEMS that require further investigation: the report might include evidence of accident history, flood damage, indications of odometer fraud, emission test failures, theft history, or evidence of heavy usage.

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Why should I buy a Vehicle History Report?

If you're selling...

    to get the best price for your vehicle. If you're selling to a dealer or trading in, they will definitely run a VHR before they take the vehicle off your hands. To get the best price for your vehicle, you should know what they're going to find out before they find it out!

if you're buying...

    so you don't get stuck with someone else's problem. If you know what the seller knows--or maybe more than the seller knows!--you're more likely to make a good decision and not be swayed by someone's smooth "pitch."

    extra peace-of-mind: CARFAX offers a "title guarantee" when you buy a report. If you later find something wrong with the vehicle's title that wasn't in the report, you may be eligible for a payout. (Pay close attention to the requirements, though., to make sure you're eligible.)

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How far back do the databases go?

VINs were standardized in the early '80s to all be 17 digits long and to use certain codes to indicate make, model, year and other information about the vehicle. Manufacturers were using other types of IDs before that, but the major history databases only include the standardized VINs from 1981-on. You probably won't find many records for most vehicles older than the late eighties, but you should run the VIN check anyway.

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What is Odometer Fraud?

It is illegal to tamper with an odometer to change its reading: usually to reduce the number of miles on the vehicle. Unscrupulous dealers have been known to "rollback" an odometer to make a used vehicle more attractive to a buyer.

Buying a vehicle history report can protect you from odometer fraud. With the data in-hand, it's obvious if the mileage suddenly goes down between registrations or annual emissions tests. You can also protect yourself from odometer fraud by having a mechanic inspect the vehicle: they will get a sense of how much wear-and-tear there is on the vehicle, which is more important than raw miles in determining the vehicle's value.

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Should I buy a single report or the multiple report option?

All these sites give you the option of buying multiple reports. At Consumer Guide and Carfax, $5 more gets you as many reports as you need for 60 days. At AutoCheck, you can get 10 reports for $9 more. If you're going to be looking at a lot of vehicles, the multiple report option is the way to go.

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What should I do if the report shows potential problems?

If you see a potential trouble area in the report, don't immediately assume the vehicle is not worth buying. If the problem is not serious, you might want to use the information to negotiate a better price on the vehicle. If you're buying from a private seller, you could ask them to explain anything unusual in the report. There may be a reasonable explanation.

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Where can I get a vehicle history report with Canadian data?

Carfax and AutoCheck both claim to have Canadian DMV data. However, you might want to try Based on their sample report, it looks like they have access to Canadian provincial motor vehicles data. And they promise not to charge you if they don't find anything for your vehicle. They also will do lien searches at the same time. And the price is comparable to the major US providers once you factor in exchange rate.

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What other research should I do before I buy a used vehicle?

At the very least, you should check out reviews on the model you're considering and used vehicle pricing guides to find out what the market price of the vehicle is. Consumer Reports has a lot of this information available in their used vehicle reviews. Other sources online for pricing info are and

As with any major decision, the more research you do before you make up your mind, the more likely you will be satisfied with your decision.

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Are there other options to protect me from vehicle history problems?

A VIN history report gives you a detailed history of a vehicle, but it's still up to you to make sure that you make good decisions based on that information. Another option is to buy a Used Car Title Insurance policy. Title Insurance means that you are paying someone a small fee to assume the risk of buying a used vehicle. If something turns out to be wrong with the vehicle's title, you have a way to recoup your investment in that vehicle.

TitleGuard from First American Corporation offers a title insurance policy for $49.95. There is no deductible, no hidden fees and no fine print. It covers you against undisclosed problems with a vehicle's title that could cost you thousands of dollars. Things like: lemon vehicles, flood damage, stolen damage, liens. (Title insurance won't cover mechanical defects if they're not related to a title problem, so be sure you still get any used vehicle checked by a mechanic before you buy.)

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