How to Check Title History of a Second-Hand Car
Buying a used vehicle requires caution, as some sellers are dishonest. Fortunately, there is a simple way to dispel any doubts. A quick search will reveal everything you need to know about the history of the title. This is possible thanks to VINs, or vehicle identification numbers.
Every car and bike sold in the United States since 1981 has a unique code. It allows you to run a full car title search online. The engine connects to the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), which stores title data across the country. The check is invaluable, whether you buy from a dealer, individual, or auction website.
Where to Find the Code
Every vehicle must have a 17-digit number on one or more of its non-removable parts. It is also mentioned in any paperwork that comes with it, including the owner’s manual. The location of the code differs depending on the manufacturer and the model. Any combination follows the same logic: numerals and letters except for I, O, and Q.
Here are some of the possible locations:
- the corner of the windshield on the driver’s side;
- the engine block;
- under the spare tire;
- the steering neck (on bikes);
If the code on the vehicle does not match the sequence in the documents, cancel the deal. This means the parts are not original, so the car may have been repaired after an accident. The absence of the code is a violation of the regulations imposed by the National Highway Safety Administration. It could also mean the vehicle was not produced for sale in the country, so it may not be registered.
Range of Information
The report will highlight any registration changes. Compare it with the seller’s version to see if they can be trusted. You may discover that the car was possessed by a salvage yard, or declared a “total loss” by its insurer.
Any serious changes to the vehicle will be highlighted. This information comes from the official source, so it is 100% reliable. The facts could prompt you to cancel the purchase or negotiate a price reduction. Here are a few things you can establish.
- The car is a custom vehicle, which means that it is not made from the original materials (replica, street rod, or reconstructed).
- The vehicle comes from the gray market (it was produced for sale in other countries).
- This is a junk vehicle, so it is unsafe to drive.
- The car was previously returned under warranty due to manufacturing defects.
- The car was seriously damaged in the past, so it is now a salvage vehicle (if such cars are subsequently repaired, they officially become rebuilt vehicles).
As you can see, checking the title is absolutely crucial. Buying a second-hand vehicle is a cheaper solution, but you should be extremely careful. Do not take the seller’s claims on faith. One quick check can prevent a big and expensive mistake.