Checking used car history is actually a very simple matter. You should always ask the seller of a used car for the Vehicle Identification Number first (VIN). Whether it's a dealer or a private seller, the VIN should be provided without a hassle.
The VIN is your golden key to check the history of any used car that you might be interested in, and it exists for the purpose of protecting the industry by preventing people from knowingly selling lemons to unwitting buyers. Should the seller happen to refuse to provide you with a VIN, it most likely means there is something in the car's history that they don't want you to see, and you should reject the deal right out.
There are many tools available online to get the dirt on a used car's history; calling the DMV for a report is also a good idea. CarFax (www.carfax.com), AutoCheck (www.autocheck.com) are good online resources for checking the history of a used car. Of course, even if the car comes out clean, it isn't a 100 percent guarantee that the car is problem free.
With the VIN, you can opt to have a free history check, or have a full car history report done; bear in mind full car reports will cost you something. A free VIN check only supplies you with the information on how many instances the DMV has received notices on a particular vehicle. The free report will not contain information on the severity of the accident, or whether it has been in a flood, or if a salvage title has been issued. Of course, a free check can be a good deciding indicator on whether or not a full car history check is worthwhile.
A full history check on a car should provide you with the following information:
Total number of accidents/salvaged and service and repair history
Past flood damage
History of being a lemon
Rollbacks on the odometer and possible fraud
Lien activity, and/or rental use (taxi, rental car, lease, etc.)
Full used car history checks are a good investment if you are buying. Ordering a lone report will cost $24.99. However, the 10 CARFAX reports plan only costs $29.99. The Unlimited Reports Plan is $34.99 (unlimited for the next 30 days after you run your first report).
Again keep in mind that a used car with a clean history doesn't guarantee perfection. Nonetheless, checking the history of a used car can provide vital information that you should not pass up.