How to See if a Car Has Been in an Accident

Last Updated on February 26, 2023

Some vehicles have a clean history, while others do not.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to check if a car has been in an accident.

Today, you can look up a vehicle’s VIN to determine if it has been involved in an accident. Or, you can use services like Carfax to check a vehicle’s driving history using its license plate number.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about whether or not your car has been in an accident.

How VIN Checks Work

The best way to see if a car has been in an accident is to run a VIN check. Each vehicle has a unique vehicle identification number (VIN). If a vehicle has been in an accident, then that accident should show up on a VIN check.

You can perform a VIN check for free via the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which was launched by members of the US insurance industry to monitor vehicle accidents.

Or, you can use convenient, private online services like Carfax to check if a vehicle has been in an accident. Carfax charges around $40 for a comprehensive vehicle report. Just enter a VIN or license plate number to get started.

How to Perform a VIN Check on Any Vehicle

Performing a VIN check is easier today than ever before. You have multiple options, including free and paid services, for performing a VIN check. We’ll review some of those options below.

National Insurance Crime Bureau (

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has a free VIN check search tool available online at You can immediately see if a specific vehicle has been reported as lost or stolen, declared a total loss after an accident, or received a salvage title.

The only catch to the NICB free VIN check tool is that you’re limited to 5 searches within a 24-hour period.

The NICB is an insurance trade industry website launched by a group of insurance companies to make it easier to check vehicle history. Just visit, look up a VIN, agree to the terms and conditions, and immediately view a vehicle’s accident history.


Carfax may be the best-known vehicle lookup service available today. The company makes determining crucial information about a vehicle’s history easy.

You can use Carfax to check your own vehicle’s history. Or, you can use Carfax before buying a used car from a private seller or dealership. Alternatively, you can use Carfax to look up any vehicle’s driving history for any reason.

Some of the things you can check with Carfax include the following:

  • Major accidents
  • Mileage rollback
  • Previous vehicle owners
  • Structural damage or other major damage to the vehicle
  • Vehicle service history
  • Total loss incidents, rebuilt salvage titles, lost or stolen reports, and more

Overall, Carfax gives you a comprehensive view of a vehicle’s history. You can immediately see if a vehicle has been previously involved in a major accident. Carfax can also provide specific details about previous damage – like whether the airbags have been deployed or the vehicle has sustained flood damage.

Another perk of Carfax is the ability to look up a vehicle by its VIN or license plate number.

The only “catch” with Carfax is the price: Carfax reports aren’t free. They cost around $40 apiece. Some dealerships may offer a Carfax report for free, but they’re not obligated to do so.

Ask the Dealership for a Free Vehicle Report

Consider asking the dealership for a free vehicle report if you’re buying a used vehicle. Dealerships are not obligated to provide free Carfax reports. However, many dealerships provide free Carfax reports for added transparency.

In fact, some car-buying experts recommend avoiding dealerships that hide a vehicle’s driving history. If a dealership isn’t upfront about a vehicle’s driving history or is unwilling to provide a Carfax report, the dealership may be hiding information about the vehicle’s driving history.

Alternatively, some private sellers may offer a free Carfax report when selling a used vehicle.

By asking your dealership or private seller for a Carfax report before buying a used vehicle, you can get a complete picture of the vehicle and its condition – all while getting a free vehicle report.

Understanding a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

Each vehicle has a unique code called the vehicle identification number, or VIN:

  • VINs come in two lengths: 17 characters or 11 characters.
  • VINs are alphanumeric and consist of both numbers and letters.
  • Every vehicle on the road today has a unique VIN.
  • You can typically find the VIN on the lower driver-side corner of the windshield.

The VIN is more than just a random series of numbers and letters. Each character means something. Using the VIN, you can learn the vehicle’s country of origin, manufacturer, vehicle type, model year, and even its assembly plant, among other information. You can also etch your VIN on the side of your window for lower insurance rates.

Here are some of the things you can learn from reading a VIN:

  • The first character refers to the country of origin of your vehicle. Typically, in the United States, this character is a “1.”
  • The second and third characters refer to your vehicle’s manufacturer and the specific division where your vehicle was made.
  • The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth characters reveal the vehicle’s engine type, description, and safety features.
  • The ninth character of the VIN is the manufacturer’s security code.
  • The 10th character shows the model year of your vehicle.
  • The 11th character of the VIN reveals which assembly plant completed your vehicle.
  • The 12th through 17th characters of the VIN is a six-digit number unique to your vehicle. This number is sequential. For example, if your VIN ends with 000001, your vehicle was the first of its batch.

By running the 18-character VIN into a search form, you can discover crucial facts about the vehicle’s history. You can determine if the vehicle was involved in a total loss accident, received a salvage title, or was declared lost or stolen.

Final Word: It’s Easy to Check a Car’s Accident History

Today, it’s easier than ever to check if a car has ever been in an accident.

You can use free insurance industry services like the National Insurance Crime Bureau ( to receive up to five free vehicle reports per day.

Or, you can use paid services like Carfax to get a complete picture of a vehicle’s accident history.

James Shaffer
James Shaffer James Shaffer is a writer for and a well-seasoned auto insurance industry veteran. He has a deep knowledge of insurance rules and regulations and is passionate about helping drivers save money on auto insurance. He is responsible for researching and writing about anything auto insurance-related. He holds a bachelor's degree from Bentley University and his work has been quoted by NBC News, CNN, and The Washington Post.
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