How to Check the History of a Used Car

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How to Check the History of a Used Car

Follow these steps to make sure it hasn't been in an accident.

I’m in the market for a used car. How can I find out whether it has been in a major accident?

First, get the Carfax report for the car, which is often available from the seller. Or you can order a report using the vehicle’s VIN at for $35 (or $5 for five reports in 60 days).

Carfax gathers information from more than 34,000 sources, including the state departments of motor vehicles, police departments, dealership service departments, repair shops, body shops and auto auctions. The report lists major issues, such as whether the car has been totaled or damaged in an accident or flood, and includes service records, ownership transactions and other information.

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Follow up by having the car inspected by a mechanic or body shop. “While getting a Carfax report is a good idea, no vehicle-history report service is 100% foolproof,” says Steve Nolan, of An accident that wasn’t reported to the insurance company or the police, for example, might not show up on the Carfax report. And sometimes an owner can “scrub” a car’s history by moving the car from state to state, says Karl Brauer, of “So if a car’s history before it entered its current state is blank, that’s a potential warning sign,” he says.


Let the mechanic know about any clues in the Carfax report that could be a tip-off to problems -- such as frame damage, airbag deployment or suspicious gaps in the service record. “An unscrupulous repair shop may not replace the airbags or may replace them improperly, and that is a serious safety issue,” says Chris Basso, of Carfax.

For more information about buying a used car, see Bargains in Used Cars.

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