How to Find the Value of a Car by VIN Numberby Michelle DwyerUpdated January 18, 2018
The auto industry assigns a unique 17-digit code to each vehicle produced by any manufacturer. This code is called a vehicle identification number, or VIN. Each code consists of a set of numbers and letters that not only identifies your specific vehicle, but helps interested third-parties such as vehicle appraisers store information about your car's history, including accidents, title issues and its value. To find a car's value using the VIN, you can visit a do-it-yourself website or a dealer, or estimate it yourself, based on the car's unique history.
The National Automobile Dealers Association, or NADA, offers vehicle appraisal information through two links on its website: one for customers and one for lenders and dealers. When you visit the site, you can click on the Visit Consumer Site field to find out the estimated value of any late-model car by entering generic information such as the year and mileage of the vehicle, but you can't get a specific value because there is no field to for entering a VIN. Lenders and dealers, however, have the ability to enter a VIN and can find a specific car's value. They pay a fee for this service; most lenders and dealers do subscribe to the NADA. When shopping for a car, ask your salesperson to look up the value of your car or any car you wish to purchase. Preferably, have the salesperson do this in front of you.
- Be wary of any dealer who asks you to pay for your NADA report. They should offer this information to you for free.
- When reading your NADA report, verify that the VIN is listed on the report and it matches the vehicle in question.
Car Gurus offers a free market-value vehicle estimate for your car and allows consumers who register for an account to enter their own VINs. The data is straightforward and simple, with basic information about the market value of a car as well as its trade-in value. The market value is a rough estimate of what you can expect somebody to pay a dealer to purchase the car, and the trade-in value is what you can get if you either sell a car to a dealer or apply the value to another car purchase. The Car Gurus site also displays images of and information on similar cars for sale at dealers near you. To use a VIN on Car Gurus to find a car's value, click here. Select Car Values from the menu, and on the next page, fill in the Lookup by VIN field to find out the value of a specific car.
Vehicle History Reports
Vehicle history websites allow you to enter a VIN and get the history of a car's life. These reports include owner and accident history along with any titling issues. Reports generated from these sites also reveal if a car's value suffers due to excess mileage or extensive wear and tear. While these sites won't list a car's value explicitly, these reports can give you a "price adjustment value" -- how much above or below the retail book value the car is worth. CARFAX is an example of a vehicle history website. To look at an example report from CARFAX, click here.
- Don't be misled by reporting companies that offer a "free" comprehensive vehicle history report to consumers. None of them are free unless you go through a dealer who pays a fee to use these services, much like they pay for the NADA. These sites will entice you to enter a VIN and then display a number of alerts about information found in the report, but won't display the report until you pay for it.
- A vehicle history report is only as good as the information in it. Reports might not always include every detail of a car's history.
- Again, as with the NADA report, no dealer should ask you to pay for a CARFAX report or any other vehicle history report.
You can visit an appraisal site such as the Kelley Blue Book and get an estimate of a car's worth and then apply any price adjustment from your vehicle history report to get a more accurate value. However, this is only an estimate based on your best educated guess. The KBB does not offer consumers the opportunity to enter a VIN. To get a car's value on the KBB, you enter generic information such as year, mileage, make and model of the car.
CARMAX and Auto Check are well-known car history reporting companies, and many people use them. However, there are lesser known companies that are recommended by the government's official National Motor Vehicle Title Information System website. Visit the NMVTIS's consumer Web page by clicking here. You will be directed to a list of companies to choose from.
Michelle Dwyer is a U.S. Army veteran writing fiction and nonfiction since 2003. She specializes in business, careers, leadership, military affairs and organizational change and behavior. Dwyer received an MBA from Tarleton State University/Texas A&M Central Texas and an MFA in creative writing from National University in La Jolla, Calif.