How to Check if a Car Has Been in an Accident?

  • by: Patrick Peterson
  • August 24, 2020
  • Other
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how to check if the car was in accident

When car shopping for a used car, you always take a bit of chance. However, if you know how to check a used car accident history on a used vehicle before buying, you may end up with far fewer issues down the road. Even if you have to pay a few dollars for the car's history report, it may save you thousands later. 

What Is A Vehicle Accident History?

The vehicle accident history report is tied to the car or truck’s vehicle identification number and shows the car’s entire history since it was brand new. It will include sales, car registrations, and accidents. A vehicle history report will also show if the vehicle is stolen, if it has suffered any damage due to floods, fire, hail, or has ever had a salvage or other branded title. Although not every accident is reported to insurance and the authorities, a vehicle accident history can help by showing previous owners, car accidents, repairs, and even open recalls on the vehicle.  

Before you go car buying, talk money, or make an offer, be sure to check the car accident history report on the vehicle you are interested in buying. If the seller refuses to provide the VIN number so you can do this, let that be a warning, there is something they don’t want you to know. A VIN check can save you not only money but also a lot of headaches down the road.

What Will Show Up When You Check Car Accident History

With a comprehensive vehicle history report, you can actually see a ton of information about the used car, just by running its vehicle identification number or license plate in a helpful search engine. Some of the things you will see are:

  • The car’s make, model, year, manufacturer, and trim level.
  • All previous owners and length of ownership.
  • Warranty details.
  • Major accidents that the vehicle has been involved in.
  • Repairs.
  • If the car has an odometer rollback.
  • Branded title.
  • Total loss or salvage title.
  • Any flood damage, fire, or hail damage.
  • If the car suffered an airbag deployment.
  • Structural damage to the car.
  • The vehicle’s service history (how it was maintained).
  • The last reported odometer readings from the latest title.
  • Failed emissions tests.
  • Recalls on the vehicle
  • If the car was ever leased or used for police use. 

The vehicle history report will show other information as well. A VIN accident report may save you thousands by not buying a junked or lemon car being sold as used. 

How To Check Car Accident History

To check to see if a car was in an accident, do a VIN lookup and review the vehicle history report and have the vehicle thoroughly examined by a good, trusted mechanic. He or she can look for telltale signs that the vehicle was in an accident. They may be able to identify things that you, as the buyer, would not notice. 

Along with checking the car physically, you can also use online sources to run the vehicle identifier and obtain a vehicle history report that show's the whole story.  

Signs that Tell a Car Has Been in an Accident

Some clear signs that a used car has been in an accident before are: 

  • Signs of repair - Have a mechanic check for misaligned body parts, broken or repaired seams, and gaps in the metal. A trained eye will be able to see where repairs have been made, even if they were done correctly. Gaps are a big sign that the car sustained some type of damage at some point. 
  • Check the paint - Look for signs that the paint doesn’t match, areas of fading, discoloration, or anything that doesn’t look original. It means they tried to match the color of the paint after the repair but were unsuccessful. Pay particular attention to areas where body parts meet like around windows or mirrors.
  • Abnormal sounds - Listen for unusual signs when opening the door, running the engine, or closing the trunk. If you hear creaking, popping, or other unnatural sounds, it could be a sign of a previous accident. 
  • Cheap parts - Keep an eye out for any cheap replacement parts that look like they were recently patched in to fix something. Aftermarket parts often don’t match the originals. Let this be a red flag that something is not right.

A test drive might reveal some of these issues even if the vehicle's history doesn't show any red flags. 

car in accident

How To Find Out Car Accident History Using A Vehicle History Report For Free

There are a few ways you can check a vehicle history report online. The first way you can check a used car accident history free is by using a tool from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) called VINCheck. The company is concerned with insurance data, so it will pull any insurance claims due to accidents, flood, fire, etc. on the vehicle. It should also let you know if the used car was stolen or declared a total loss or salvage vehicle. Those you may want to stay away from.

There are dozens of other third-party websites that crawl public records data and compiles vehicle history reports to help you identify cars and trucks to stay away from. You can easily run a VIN check for free, or some places charge a small fee for providing the details. Either way, it is invaluable information to have when you are shopping for a used car. You can purchase a single report or a package allowing you to run multiple reports. Review the company's sample report to see if it contains the information you need.

Regardless of whether your purchase from a dealer or a private seller, a car history report can help you weed out the lemons and find the right car for you. 

Another way you can perform a free VIN check is to contact the manufacturer of the vehicle. Some of them have VIN search tools on their website. It helps if you know the make, model, and year but if you have the VIN, that should pull up the specs for the right vehicle. 

You might also be able to contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to find out some information about the car or truck. They keep records too about the car and may be able to tell you if the vehicle has failed inspections or when it was last registered and to whom. 

Another option for a free vehicle history report is to contact your insurance company. They also have access to search tools and if you call your insurance company, they might be able perform an autocheck report on the car before you buy it. If you plan on getting auto insurance for this vehicle, they will need to check it out anyway. 

call the insurance if your car was in accident

Does A Car Dealer Have To Disclose An Accident?

It’s essential to know how to check if a car has been in an accident, but it makes sense to expect a dealer to tell prospective car buyers upfront if a car or truck has been in an accident. Not all car dealerships are reputable, and some outright lie to get you to buy. But legally, do car dealers have to tell you if a car has been in an accident? The answer is, it depends on the state. In the United States, each state has laws dictating whether or not that information must be disclosed to a buyer. In most cases, though, minor damage that has been repaired does not need to be passed along. However, in some states, major accidents and branded titles must be disclosed to the buyer so they can make an informed purchase decision. 

Check your state laws, and if a dealership did sell you a vehicle that was in a major accident and they did not tell you, you may have some legal recourse available to you. You could consult an attorney who specializes in these types of cases. You should be able to get a full refund or replacement car without too much trouble. You should keep all notes, documentation, and other items that prove the dealer did not tell you about any accidents the car may have been involved in before the sale. 

Keep in mind that some criminals try to move a vehicle from one state to another to “wash the title,” so it won’t show a salvage, junk, or other branded title. If you perform as much research as you can, it will help you avoid this issue. Thieves will also rollback an odometer and pass it off as a younger vehicle with fewer miles. These are just a couple of used car scams to watch out for.

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