Finding out if a used car has been in an accident is an important step in the buying process. Although you may choose to buy a damaged car anyway, a vehicle that has been in an accident will have a decreased value and may have problems you can’t anticipate. In the United States, all vehicles are required to have VIN numbers (Vehicle Identification Number) and information is reported to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).
After you find a car you are interested in, you should request a Carfax report. Most dealerships will offer you one at no charge. Private sellers may or may not, but it is a good sign if one is provided for you. If you have to order the report on your own, look through the windshield at the dash on the drivers’ side. You will see a seventeen-digit code on the dash. This is the VIN and it is unique to the car. The dash, hood, each door, and any major parts should have this stamped on it. If a vehicle has been in an accident and parts were replaced, they will not have the original VIN on them. While you’re looking at the car, you can also look for signs of bodywork like mismatched paint, over spray, doors not being hung quite even, or gaps between the door and fender.
Use the VIN from the dash to obtain the Carfax report. Any accident reported to the authorities will be listed on it, as well as floods, multiple owners, commercial use, etc. If the seller provided the report, make sure the VIN on the report matches the VIN on the vehicle and you’re not reading a report for a different vehicle.
There’s no way to be sure if a vehicle has been in an accident if it wasn’t reported to an insurance company or the DMV. If you use common sense and your better instincts, then you are likely to pick a reliable car. Good luck and happy hunting!
By Erica Fields
Photo courtesy of CarTango