By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you’re in the market for buying a used RV, tow vehicle, or car to tow, you may have seen the advertisements for checking up on a vehicle’s history. Some of the big names in the business are Carfax and autodna. Enter a VIN (vehicle identification number) code and if the company has records on the vehicle, hand over your cash.
In return for payment, you’ll typically get information about the vehicle’s history, which might include details like major accidents, rolled-back odometer readings, how many previous owners and damage. Has the rig ever been a “leaser” or used as a taxi? Has the rig been “totaled out”? Rebuilt? Suffered flood damage? Had the airbag deploy? Used enough that the odometer has rolled over? Been officially labeled as a “lemon”? Even some vehicle service and maintenance information might be included.
Depending on what service you use, you could spend a few bucks. Carfax, which typically provides information on motor vehicles like cars, trucks and motorhomes, charges $39.99 for one report. If you’ve narrowed your choices down significantly, then spending 40 bucks for a report might seem like a good investment. Still, other outfits like faxvin.com offer to provide information at no charge. Is it really so?
We did a check by entering the VIN code for a travel trailer we’d looked at on a dealer lot. The faxvin.com site returned information on who the trailer was built by, when and where manufactured, the model year, and the trim code for the rig. That’s a start – but to get more information (all those juicy details) we had to hit the “continue” button. An impressive graphic scrolled across the screen while more “checking” was done. The return screen then showed that various other bits of information were available – all we had to do was plunk down $8.95 to get it.
Well, $8.95 is a lot less than $39.99 – and in the case of travel trailers or fifth wheels, you won’t get the information you want from Carfax, so the faxvin.com option would be a logical place to look.
Still, you can get much of this information for FREE. Yep, with a little sniffing around on the internet you can get much of what you need without spending a dime.
First, just try entering the VIN code in your favorite search engine. If the vehicle has been previously “totaled,” for whatever reason, it may come back. You can also plug the VIN code into Uncle Sam’s recall database from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. If the rig you’re interested in has been recalled but not yet serviced, you’ll have the info immediately. Has the rig ever been declared an insurance loss, or reported stolen? The National Insurance Crime Bureau will tell you if it has.
On the other hand, we found another truly FREE VIN search database. The site, vehiclehistory.com, provides a huge amount of information on both motorized vehicles, including motorhomes, and non-motorized rigs like fifth-wheels and travel trailers. That rig that we could have spent $8.95 to research on faxvin.com yielded a treasure-trove of info for free on vehiclehistory.com.
Here’s another tip worth noting: We have found differences between VIN search sites that left us a bit puzzled. We entered the same VIN across several different sites and had some tell us they didn’t have any information on the VIN, or that we’d entered the number wrong, while other sites immediately popped back telling us they had information, simply hand over a credit card number. We passed on the latter requests.
If you want to take a chance, use a credit card to pay so if you find you’ve been ripped off, you can challenge the charges through your credit card provider.
So don’t throw your money away needlessly. Take a few minutes and let your own fingers do the walking across your keyboard.