Do a Car Title Search

Buying a used car can be hard because you don't necessarily know the car's history. Accidents, repairs and routine maintenance can all drastically effect the reliability of a car. While there is never a fool-proof way to know everything about the history of the used car you're about to buy, you can do a title search to find out as much of the car's history as you can, provided it has been recorded.


Finding the Car's VIN

  1. Know what the VIN looks like. A "Vehicle Identification Number" (VIN) is 17-digits and made up of numbers and letters; the number is unique to that specific car.
  2. Try looking for the number through the car's insurance information (vehicle insurance card or insurance policy). Almost every state in the US requires that a car be covered by insurance to drive it on the road. So, if somebody is currently driving it, they will most likely have insurance and a insurance card with the VIN.
  3. Check the car's registration card or sticker. These stickers usually go on the front windshield, on the driver's side (the left side in the US).
  4. Check the car itself. The number can be located in many places, so you may need to hunt around. Look in such places as on the driver's side below the windshield, driver's side door/door jamb, the front of the engine block and the front end of the frame. It may look like a sticker, a small metal plate or an engraving.
    • Where the VIN number is placed depends on the year and manufacturer of car, so it might be good idea to do an internet search for the VIN using the manufacturer and year.

Using a Car Title Search Provider

  1. Use a government based title search. In some countries, such as the United States, you can check a used vehicle's history through an online database. For example, in the USA, you can use the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, at Click on "Check Vehicle History" to find an approved provider.
    • Some US States offer title search databases. Be aware that this search may have limitations if the car has a history outside of the jurisdiction in which you're searching.
  2. Choose a car title provider, carefully. These services aren't free, so it is important to find a site that you trust, since you're giving them your information. This is why it's recommended that you use a service that has been approved through a government body's site (a government site will have ".gov" somewhere in the URL).
    • Follow through with the directions on the title search site. This will require you to have your VIN number ready (see step 1).
    • Checking a provider's reputability through the Better Business Bureau is also recommended.
  3. Expect to receive a report. This report should give you information concerning whether the car has been rebuilt, salvaged, spent time in a junk yard, returned to the manufacturer or had its odometer changed to an incorrect mileage.


  • Car title as legal ownership exists in various jurisdictions. For example, in Canada and Australia, each car must have a certificate of title, as in the United States, which determines who owns the car legally. In the United Kingdom, cars have a vehicle registration document (rather than "title"), which establishes who is keeping the vehicle and not legal ownership of it.[1]


  • Make sure to reference a government site in deciding which provider to use. Using a title search provider that is not affiliated with the government may lead to having your information stolen.

Things You'll Need

  • Online access
  • Registration details/insurance policy
  • VIN

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Sources and Citations