1. Use VINCheck.

The National Crime Insurance Bureau (NICB) offers VINCheck, a “free lookup service to the public to assist in determining if a car has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle by participating NICB member insurance companies” (NICB).


2. Check Car History

It is recommended that you run a title check and get a copy of the vehicle history report, which may include things like accident reports, past maintenance, lien information, mileage, and more. If you’re buying a car from a dealership, they should have this report for you. If you’re buying privately, request one from the seller or buy one yourself.

Visit the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles’ (TxDMV’s) website for a list of approved providers that offer title checks for as low as a few dollars. Once you get the report, look out for words like “salvaged” or “flood damaged,” which indicate the car was previously damaged.

*️⃣  The information in these reports may not tell you everything. It’s still important to inspect for damage and test drive.

used car

3. Research Buying from a Dealer vs. a Private Seller

If you are buying from a dealer, check their business profile on the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) website to see its BBB rating, number of complaints, and customer reviews.

If you are buying from a private seller, there are additional steps you will have to take. For more information visit the TxDMV’s website.

*️⃣  Visit the TxDMV’s Consumer Protection webpage for more tips.

4. Inspect for Signs of Damage

Be sure to inspect inside and outside of the car for signs of damage. A few tips to keep in mind while performing this inspection:

  • Inspect exterior and under the car for evidence of prior repairs, including gaps in the body panels, and repainting.
  • Check interior for rust, mud residue, water residue, or mold. Be sure to check under the carpets, in the trunk, and around screws in the console or other areas where water would not normally reach unless submerged.
  • Test electrical components. Test the lights, windshield wipers, turn signals, radio, heater, and air conditioner several times to make sure they work.
  • Consider paying to get an inspection done by a trusted mechanic.


5. Get Insurance Quotes and Compare Rates

Insurance rates can vary greatly depending on the year, make, model, and features. Shop around to get sample quotes from your current insurer and others to find the best combination of price and coverage for your needs. Use our Auto Insurance Shopping Guide for tips on shopping for insurance. If you plan on staying with your current insurer, let them know about your new-to-you car as soon as possible.