How to Trace the History of Your Car

by Scott Krohn

Tracing the history of your car can provide information such as whether the car has been involved in any accidents, who the previous owners were, and whether the car was maintained properly. It can also alert you to potential safety issues, such as air bags that were deployed, that should be checked to ensure the issues were resolved properly. Several services are available that provide information about your vehicle's history.

Get the Vehicle Identification Number

Services that can trace the history of your car will require its vehicle identification number. The VIN is a 17-digit code assigned to vehicles that works much like a Social Security number for people, providing a unique identity for each car. Information reported by insurance companies, state DMVs, garages and lenders will be linked to a car's VIN. To find the VIN for your car, check your registration papers, the certificate of title, the driver's side of the dashboard, or the door frame on the driver's side.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau

The NICB is a free service that focuses its history searches on auto theft and salvage titles. It gets this information from insurance companies within its network of more than 1,100 partners. The partners in the network report information on a voluntary basis, which allows them to report on both theft and salvage, or provide information on only one. The result is that the information may be incomplete. Still, these reports can serve as a starting point for researching a vehicle's history. Reports can be ordered by visiting the NICB website and clicking the "VINCheck" box. After arriving on the VINCheck page and entering the VIN, the report will be displayed on the website.

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System

The NMVTIS gets its information from insurance companies, salvage yards and automotive recycling operations. Unlike the voluntary reporting of the NICB members, the network that provides information to the NMVTIS is required to do so by federal law. Most state DMV websites offer links to the NMVTIS portal, where the process of purchasing a Vehicle History Report can be initiated. The NMVTIS site can also be accessed directly. The NMVTIS does not sell vehicle history reports, but offers them through its network of affiliated service providers, which are listed on the site. Once on the NMVTIS site, a service provider can be selected to assemble a VHR on a vehicle as specified by its VIN. After its completion, the history report will be available in a digital format on the affiliated provider's website. As of 2015, the cost of this service is $4.95.

Autocheck and Carfax

AutoCheck and Carfax are private title search companies that get information from many of the same sources as the NICB and NMVTIS. However, they also aggregate data for their vehicle history reports from hundreds of sources around the country, including repair shops, police departments, automobile auctions, car rental companies, and fire departments. In addition to providing information on collisions, reports from these services track vehicle histories for manufacturer’s recalls, vehicle returns based on Lemon Laws, lien holder information, state inspections, and maintenance records. VHRs can be ordered on each service provider's website. As of 2015, a VHR from AutoCheck can be acquired for $19.99 and requires the VIN. Carfax offers single reports for $39.99, which can be initiated with either a VIN or the car's license plate number and state of registration. VHRs from both services are displayed on the provider's website.

About the Author

After working for 21 years as a licensed adviser specializing in corporate and private finance, Scott Krohn began his writing career in 2008 covering a variety of topics including business, personal finance, health, and IT. He graduated from Cal State University, Long Beach with Bachelor of Arts degree.