Sep 6, 2023
How to Get a Free VIN Check & CARFAX Vehicle History Report
One of the perks of buying a brand new vehicle is that there’s no history that may catch you by surprise later.
But for many Canadians, the purchase of a brand new car simply isn’t in the cards. Fortunately, the used car market has become a go-to for savvy shoppers who want to drive something comfortable, dependable, and stylish while saving thousands of dollars.
However, used cars come with history and it can be difficult to tell how well a car performed in the past or was treated by its previous owner. There’s a chance it’s been in the shop frequently for a recurring defect, or perhaps there’s been a major collision that required extensive restoration. The car may even have a rebuilt title that you should know about.
It’s important to find out if the car you have your eye on had any issues in the past, as past issues could be a sign of future problems.
Even if a car does have a storied past, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy it. Some issues are easily explained and are not necessarily a cause for concern, while some issues are red flags that shouldn’t be ignored.
One of the best ways to unlock the past and discover everything you need to know about a used car before you buy it is with a vehicle history report. A quick look at one of these reports can provide the reassurance you need to commit to the purchase or it can help you identify a hidden problem. Finding out about an issue can also boost your negotiating position too, so it’s important to do your homework.
What is a vehicle history report?
When a vehicle experiences any kind of issue, such as a collision, defect, or even hail damage, an insurance claim may be registered to the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), a warranty claim may be processed, a recall may be issued, or the title status may change.
Each activity is reported to its respective agency and many agencies share that information with providers that collect this historical data for each vehicle and present it legibly in a report.
These reports offer historical transparency to help car buyers make more informed decisions.
Vehicle History Report vs. VIN Check - What’s the difference?
You can find vehicle history report services online, typically as a paid service. There are also VIN check services that you can access online for free. But what’s the difference?
A VIN check provides basic information when you submit a vehicle’s 17-digit VIN including:
- The year, make, and model
- Engine & drivetrain
- Where the car was assembled
A VIN check is a basic but valuable free tool to verify that a vehicle is what the seller says it is, helping you avoid deception and fraud.
A vehicle history report includes the same information as a VIN check and more, including:
- Title status
- Major accidents & claims
- Service records
- Recall campaigns
- Odometer discrepancies
- Ownership changes and import records
A vehicle history report is much more comprehensive than a VIN check, but it could come at a cost depending on who you buy your car from.
For transparency, most dealerships and online retailers include a free vehicle history report with every vehicle. Private sellers are less likely to offer a vehicle history report due to the extra cost for them. If you plan to buy from a private seller, you might have to pay to download the report yourself.
But which services should you use? Since there are so many of them out there, it can be hard to find the best ones. That’s why we decided to round up our favourites to help you decide.
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What are the best free VIN check services?
Whether you’re buying a vehicle privately or from a dealership, getting your hands on the vehicle history report or VIN check should be an integral part of your research. For the VIN check, there are several options you can use to find the information you’re after:
1. CARFAX Canada - VIN Decoder and Lookup (free)
CARFAX Canada offers a free VIN check that reveals limited but up-to-date information about your car’s history. With this insight, you’ll be able to determine if you want to see the complete history report. We talk more about CARFAX vehicle history reports below.
2. VIN Verify (free)
The Insurance Bureau of Canada provides a free tool called VIN Verify to identify vehicles that have branded title statuses of Flood, Fire, Irreparable, or Salvaged. While you don’t receive a detailed report, a quick check on VIN Verify can help you avoid title washed cars.
3. Transport Canada (free)
If you’re simply looking for recall information, Transport Canada offers a database you can search quickly and easily. This free tool will make it easy to find any make, model, or year of vehicle that has been recalled due to manufacturer defects. If the vehicle you’re looking at has had a lot of manufacturer recalls, it could be a red flag.
What are the best vehicle history report services?
By far, the best peace of mind you can get is from a comprehensive vehicle history report (VHR). The modest cost you might have to pay is worth it to prevent buyers’ remorse later.
But please bear in mind that no report is perfect. Some important incidents may not get reported. For example, a previous owner may choose to repair serious damage out of pocket rather than file an insurance claim. Regardless, we still highly recommend you check the vehicle history report before committing to anything else.
While vehicle history reports can be viewed or downloaded for free with the right vendor, there are several paid options that you can access online if needed, and these are our top picks.
1. CARFAX Canada
The most well-known and pre-eminent VHR service in Canada, CARFAX Canada (previously known as CarProof) has access to one of the largest car history databases in North America, reporting on information collected from thousands of data sources in Canada and the United States.
As well as the basic VIN check information mentioned above, their VHR includes information about:
Vehicle accident or damage claims: The accident history section of a CARFAX report provides a comprehensive summary of any reported incidents of damage, including anything from collisions to extreme weather conditions. You’ll learn details about the number of incidents, when they occurred, the areas of the vehicle impacted, and the cost of repairs.
Service information: Knowing what kind of maintenance the car was subjected to and how frequently it had to be seen by a mechanic is a good indication of its current condition.
Vehicle registration & title status checks: Find out where the vehicle was last registered by an owner. Does the vehicle have a branded title or a clean title? If the status is clean, it likely means that the car has never been involved in a major accident.
Canadian lien search: If a vehicle has a registered lien, it means that it has outstanding debt attached to it. If you buy a car with a lien on it, you could find yourself responsible for the previous owner’s debt.
Outstanding recalls: If the manufacturer issues a recall for this vehicle due to some issue or defect, it gets reported here. If a safety recall is still open, it means that the issue potentially affecting this vehicle has not yet been repaired.
Import/U.S. history: Find out if the vehicle was imported from overseas or has a U.S. history.
Theft records: Buying a car that was declared stolen can cause a lot of unnecessary stress, so it’s good to confirm this information for your own peace of mind.
A CARFAX report is $54.95 with a lien check or $39.95 without it.
You can view a sample report here.
Similar to CARFAX, AutoCheck provides a free VIN check service that displays the make, model, year, style, engine, and country of assembly. For $24.99, you can get more comprehensive information about the vehicle's title, registration and usage history, fleet usage, and more.
3. VinAudit Canada
Having recently entered the Canadian market, a VinAudit Canada report includes registration records, recall records, vehicle status checks, manufacturer buybacks through the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP), theft records, and more. A report is $14.95 per vehicle, and you can access free VIN check services here too.
How to get a free vehicle history report
If you’re purchasing a pre-owned vehicle from a dealership or online retailer, always ask the seller to provide the vehicle history report. While it’s less likely that a private seller on Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji will offer a vehicle history report due to the extra expense, trusted dealerships and retailers will almost always provide one as part of the service and in an effort to be open and transparent.
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