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Web Extra: Which VIN Report Is Right For You?

If you’re in the market for a used car, there’s one thing you absolutely need to know above all else: the vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). The VIN is the fingerprint of any car and the key to finding out just what kind of previous life it may have lived under different owners. Most owners know about the importance of a vehicle history report using the VIN, but not everyone knows the various ways and places you can get these reports. Brian Moody of Edmunds.com lists the three big ones:

1. VinCheck. Moody calls it valuable but limited. It’s a free service from the NICB and should be considered a first step in the buying process While it notifies a potential buyer of important problems (theft, salvage title and, in some cases, flood damage), it is neither comprehensive nor user-friendly.

2. AutoCheck.com. After you enter a VIN, a report is displayed immediately. The information is well organized under major headings, including Title and Problem Check, Odometer Check, Vehicle Use and Event Check and Full History. One unique feature is the AutoCheck Score for similar vehicles. At a glance, this provides a specific number to rate desirability compared to other cars. AutoCheck offers a single report for $15 or an "unlimited" number of reports for 60 days for $25.

3. Carfax. The most well-known service is also the most comprehensive and user-friendly. Reports have a high level of sophistication. Like AutoCheck, Carfax reports a variety of major problems encountered with a used car. A single report costs $30, or you can buy 10 for $35 or an unlimited number of reports for $40 for 30 days. What distinguishes Carfax from the competition is not just the data it provides, but the way it is organized and interpreted.