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Everything You Need to Know About Getting a VIN Check

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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You probably haven’t thought a lot about a car’s VIN (vehicle identification number). Usually, we just think of VINs when we register our car at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or we need to get our vehicle serviced or insured. But it’s critical to understand what exactly a VIN is, why it’s important, and why you should always get a VIN check before buying a used car.

What is a VIN number and where do you find it?

Just as your fingerprint is unique to you, a VIN is unique to your vehicle. No two vehicles can have the same VIN. This all-important grouping of identifiers is made up of both numbers and capital letters (usually 17 characters in all; cars made before 1981 may have fewer digits) and it displays everything that is unique about a vehicle— its features, specifications, who it was made by and where it was manufactured. It’s usually located on the driver’s side interior dash, door jamb or on a plate inside the engine bay.

The simplest way to find the VIN is to position yourself outside of the car on the driver’s side. Peek at the corner spot where the dash meets the windshield. It may also be located on the vehicle’s engine or under the hood near the firewall. As a third option, you may locate it on your insurance card/or on your insurance documentation, and on the title and registration of your vehicle.

Passenger vehicles, multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), motorcycles/scooters, trucks, buses, low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and trailers also have VIN numbers.

A vehicle identification number serves a variety of purposes: it can be used to monitor recalls, indicate a car’s registration status, warranty claims, and insurance coverage.

The VIN is made up of six main sections or parts:

  • World Manufacturer Index (WMI) — The first number indicates where the vehicle was built and the next two numbers indicate the manufacturer.
  • Manufacturer Specification Data — The fourth through the eighth character display the car’s model series, engine and body type. These numbers also might indicate what kind of basic safety equipment the vehicle has.
  • Check Digit — The ninth digit in the VIN is a special number that has been created by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This number verifies that the VIN is authentic.
  • Model Year — The tenth number shows the model year of the vehicle.
  • Plant Location — The 11th character indicates where the vehicle was built or assembled.
  • Vehicle Unique Number — The last six characters are the vehicle’s serial number.

What is a VIN check?

A VIN check is, simply, a check of the car’s history. It is also called a Vehicle History Check or Report and it’s critical to do a VIN check before purchasing a used car, because you want to get as much information as you can about a vehicle’s past. Was it ever in an accident? Have any parts been recalled? These are the types of questions a VIN check can answer.

Obtaining a vehicle history report is a very important part of the used car purchasing process. You’ll want to secure one of these reports before you purchase a used car. A VIN check or vehicle history report will show things like:

  1. Odometer rollbacks: If the reading on the vehicle history report doesn’t match the reading on the odometer, the odometer may have been rolled back. This could mean that the odometer reading is unreliable.
  2. Flood damage: When a car is flooded and totaled, it’s VIN is recorded. Sometimes flooded cars are cleaned up and sold hundreds or thousands of miles from where the damage occurred. The VIN check will tell you if the car has suffered any flood damage.
  3. Collisions and accidents: When a collision or accident happens and it is put through insurance claims, or when the police get involved, the VIN number is recorded. Car history report providers collect data from insurance companies, law enforcement, collision repair shops, and DMVs to paint a picture of what the car has been through. If the airbags have been deployed or there was serious structural damage to the vehicle, you’ll be able to tell by running a VIN check.
  4. Frame or structural damage: If the car was in a wreck and sustained frame or structural damage it will show up on the VIN report.
  5. Airbag safety: Millions of cars have recalled airbags. By checking the car’s VIN, you can check to see if one exists on the vehicle you’re considering buying (if it does, a dealership should repair it for free). Defective airbags can be incredibly dangerous if deployed in a crash.
  6. Service and repair information: While not all services are recorded with the VIN number, many major ones are. By pulling the vehicle history report you can see what kinds of major repairs and services the car has had before you buy it.
  7. Vehicle usage: Was the vehicle used as a taxi? As a leased car? When a car is used as a livery vehicle or leased its VIN is registered with the DMV. Some livery cars have had a hard life (lots of miles, stop and go traffic, the potential for accidents) so it pays to pull the vehicle history report.
  8. Recall details: Are there any recalls on the vehicle and have they been repaired? The VIN number can help you find out.
  9. Title information, including salvaged or junked titles: If a title is salvaged or junked it means that the vehicle you are considering has a branded title. A salvaged title indicates that the vehicle has been in an accident and declared a total loss by an insurance company. Someone then came along and repaired the car to be drivable on the road and got a salvage title in order to register it. A junked title means that the car has been deemed unsafe to operate on U.S. roads. Each state Department of Motor Vehicles has different terms for junk titles so be sure to check with your local office to find out what exactly the term junk means in your state.

In addition to the potential problems the car has, the VIN will also show you the more mundane (but still important) details that we mentioned above. Automotive repair shops and service technicians also rely on VINs to identify the car’s parts such as the engine, transmission and brake systems.

A VIN check is important, but….

VIN checks can tell you a lot of things about a used car, but it doesn’t tell you everything. According to Matt Jones, senior consumer advice editor for Edmunds, you should not believe everything you find on a Vehicle Inspection Report.

Why? Jones said it’s pretty easy to avoid putting an accident on Carfax or Autocheck.

“Just because a car says it has a completely clear history, does not mean that it’s true.” Jones explained that’s because Carfax only knows what’s reported: if an insurance claim wasn’t filed, Carfax won’t know it occurred.

In some cases, he added, dealerships or body shops may also report work done, so all a customer would have to do is avoid the Carfax mention of an accident would be to pay for the repair out of pocket (which sometimes happens on minor accidents so the at- fault driver doesn’t get an insurance ding from reporting properly) or selecting a repair shop that does not report work to Carfax.

It is worth nothing, though, that major accidents generally are paid through insurance because of high repair costs.

“On the flip side, just because the VIN report says it has had an accident, doesn’t mean that it was a real accident,” Jones said. He gave MagnifyMoney an example from his own experience: his son, who was 6 years old at the time, lost control of the bicycle he was riding, hit the neighbor’s car door, and put a dent in it. When it was fixed through insurance, Carfax said an accident had been reported.

“So I guess, yeah, an accident did happen, but it was a 6-year old riding a bike into a door.”

Jones advised buyers to use the VIN check as a guide and to have the vehicle checked out by a certified mechanic and inspection specialist to be doubly sure if you have concerns.

How to get a free VIN check

If you type in “free VIN check” into your favorite search engine, you’ll get countless suggestions of websites to peruse. A VIN check can cost anywhere from $3.50 on CheckThatVin for basic information such as odometer readings, collision history and if it’s been salvaged or junked, to more comprehensive reports for $39.99 on Carfax. (Autocheck reports are a little cheaper at $24.99). And while there are free options such as VinCheck, these services usually only cover the basics like mileage readings, when the vehicle was titled, and if insurance companies ever reported a total loss or salvage of the car. Other places to get a free VIN check include the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), VehicleHistory.com and iSeeCars.com/VIN.

If you opt to pay for a VIN check, you’re getting much more information about a vehicle from potentially thousands of sources. This is absolutely key in knowing the history of your selected vehicle. The information will come from data centers at state and local DMVs, auction sites for autos including salvage auctions, collision repair facilities and body shops, service shops, insurance providers, car recyclers, state inspection agencies, companies that offer extended warranties, manufacturers, car dealerships and law enforcement agencies.

Run a VIN check, among other things…

Running a VIN check before you buy a used car can be valuable to your bottom line. A used car is a big investment, so you want to make sure the vehicle you’ve chosen doesn’t have too much of a troubled history. Knowing if it’s been in accidents, had numerous parts recalled, or been stolen may help you make the decision as to whether or not you should buy it.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Lindsay Martell
Lindsay Martell |

Lindsay Martell is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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Navy Federal Credit Union Auto Loan Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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If you are shopping for an auto loan, it’s helpful to get quotes from multiple lenders to ensure you receive the lowest possible interest rate and most favorable terms. For members of the military and their families, Navy Federal Credit Union could be an option.

Here’s what we found out about Navy Federal Credit Union and its auto loans.

About Navy Federal Credit Union

Navy Federal Credit Union, which was founded in 1933 and is headquartered in Vienna, Va., serves the military community. Its “once a member, always a member” policy means that you can continue to use the credit union if you or your family member leaves the military.

The following groups are eligible for membership:

  • Active-duty members of the Air Force, Air National Guard, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy
  • Delayed Entry Program (DEP) enlistees
  • Department of Defense officer candidates/ROTC participants
  • Department of Defense reservists
  • Veterans, retirees and annuitants

Parents, grandparents, spouses, siblings, children and grandchildren in a military family are also eligible, as are household members. Department of Defense civilian employees can become members, too.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau action against credit union

It’s important to note that in 2016 the credit union was ordered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, to pay $28.5 million after an investigation found that, among other things, it was improperly restricting account access for members with delinquent loans. The CFPB accused the credit union of making false threats of legal action and wage garnishment, threatening to contact delinquent members’ commanding officers and lying about the consequences of falling behind on loan payments. Of that total, $23 million would go to victims who received threatening letters. The credit union was required to correct its debt collection practices.

Navy Federal Credit Union: At a glance

When shopping for an auto loan, it’s crucial to get several quotes, no matter your credit score. If you have an array of loan options, you’ll have more negotiating power with a dealership.

APRs

APRs for Navy Federal Credit Union auto loans, which are based on creditworthiness, currently start at 2.99%.

Here’s a breakdown of APRs based on the type of vehicle:

  • New vehicles: 2.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 96 months
  • Late-model used vehicles: 3.29%* to 4.79%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months
  • Used vehicles: 4.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months

Used vehicles older than 20 years are paid back at a collateral loan APR, which can be between 8.09%* and 8.9%* for loan terms between up to 60 months and 180 months. Preapproval isn’t available for this type of loan.

Your rate could be higher, depending on your credit profile and the value of the vehicle.

Active-duty and retired military members may be eligible for an additional discount with direct deposit to a Navy Federal Credit Union account. To get the discount, call or visit the credit union.

Vehicle requirements

Navy Federal Credit Union has specific vehicle requirements for its auto loans. For new vehicles, the minimum loan amount is $30,000 if seeking a term of 85 to 96 months. Used vehicles are 2017 models or older, or any model year with more than 30,000 miles. Late-model used vehicles can be model years 2018 to 2020 with 7,500 to 30,000 miles.

Boat, motorcycle and RV loans

The credit union also offers new and used boat, motorcycle and recreational vehicle (RV) loans. These loans only apply to recreational vehicles, so full-time RVs aren’t eligible. Here’s a breakdown of APRs based on the type of vehicle:

  • New boats: 6.05%* to 8.75%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 180 months
  • Used boats: 8.05%* to 9.2%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 180 months
  • New motorcycles: 7.25%* to 8.6%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 84 months
  • Used motorcycles: 8.09%* to 9.35%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months
  • RVs (collateral loans): 8.09%* to 8.9%* for loan terms between up to 60 months and 180 months

These rates are based on creditworthiness, so your rate may be higher.

As with auto loans, there are specific requirements when it comes to boats, motorcycles and RVs. Check with the credit union for details.

Refinancing

Navy Federal Credit Union also offers auto loan refinancing.

Here’s a breakdown of APRs based on the type of vehicle:

  • New vehicles: 2.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 96 months
  • Late-model used vehicles: 3.29%* to 4.79%* for loan terms between up to 36 months and 72 months
  • Used vehicles: 4.99% to 6.29% for loan terms between up to 36 months and 12 months

Members may be eligible for $200 cash back 61 to 65 days after completing their first scheduled payment when refinancing from another lender.

A closer look at Navy Federal Credit Union auto loans

Highlights of Navy Federal Credit Union auto loans

A down payment isn’t required to get a Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan, but making one could improve your loan-to-value ratio, which could boost your chances of getting approved.

If you have a limited credit history, you may still get approved with a co-applicant.

You could get a decision about your application in just a few minutes. The credit union offers preapprovals, so you know how much money you can spend on your vehicle before you start shopping. If you get preapproved, your rate will be locked for 60 days.

The credit union offers an auto buying program, through a nationwide network of dealers, as a straightforward way to buy a new or used car. You can even get special military prices if members need to buy a new car while overseas.

You can get optional guaranteed asset protection (GAP) insurance for existing or new auto loans through the credit union. It also offers some discounts on GEICO auto insurance, depending on your state of residence.

Lowlights of Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan

If you don’t have ties to the military, you won’t be able to access Navy Federal Credit Union’s services, including its auto loans.

If you are approved for an auto loan, you must either pick up your check in person at a branch or receive it via mail. There may be a fee associated with mailed loan checks. If you had a co-applicant with a different mailing address, the check and promissory note will be sent to them. Some applicants may find this inconvenient, especially if their co-applicant lives far away.

On the credit union’s website, minimum interest rates are noted in detail for used vehicles, new vehicles, boats, RVs and motorcycles. The website, however, doesn’t note its maximum interest rates or discuss specific credit requirements for auto loan approval. The credit union did not respond to emails requesting this information.

How to apply for a Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan

To apply for an auto loan from Navy Federal Credit Union, you’ll first need to become a member. You can apply at a branch or online, and you won’t be charged an application fee.

Make sure to gather contact information for both you and your co-applicant, if you have one. If you’ve picked out the vehicle you want, you’ll need its 17-character vehicle identification number (VIN), the state where it will be registered, the dealer or seller’s name and the mileage reading on the odometer.

If you don’t have a specific vehicle in mind, you’ll need an estimate of the type, age and price of the vehicle you want to buy, including the warranty, title, tax and license fees minus the down payment. You’ll also need to know about how long of a loan term you’d prefer.

The credit union requires personal information, including employment and income details for both you and your potential co-applicant. It’ll ask for your current housing information, too. The credit union already has identity information about its members, and it’ll base its decision on your credit history, the amount of money you want to borrow and the value of your collateral.

You’ll receive a text or email from the credit union to let you know whether it approved your application. Most applicants get a decision in about five minutes.

The fine print

Navy Federal Credit Union’s website doesn’t indicate whether it charges any additional fees for auto loan borrowers. The only fee mentioned is the one that the credit union may charge to mail a physical check to an applicant or co-applicant, as mentioned above.

Who is a Navy Federal Credit Union auto loan best for?

The credit union is a great option for people with ties to the military who want to work with a credit union that has friendly policies and decent interest rates.

Like many credit unions, this one offers competitive interest rates for those with good credit. Even if you are already a member and know you’ll apply for an auto loan with this lender, it’s still important to shop around for the best rates so you can be sure you are paying the lowest possible amount for access to the money you need to buy a car.

*Rate accurate as of August 22, 2019

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Rachel Morey
Rachel Morey |

Rachel Morey is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Rachel here

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Buying a Car: When to Walk Away

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Buying a car can be a stressful experience for anyone. For some of us, the anxiety begins before we start negotiating financing or even step foot onto a car lot. But no matter how eager you are to get the experience over with, or how persistent a salesperson is, you should never buy a car without being certain it’s right for you.Ron Montoya, consumer advice editor for Edmunds, says that dealerships are good at applying pressure. “There’s always a sense of urgency that ‘today is the best day to buy the car,’” he says. “While that may be true for the seller, it’s not always the case for the buyer.”

According to a 2018 Cox Automotive study, you may be tempted to give in to the pressure after spending a whopping three hours at a lot, which is the average amount of time buyers spend. But no matter the circumstance, you should always be prepared to walk away in the presence of red flags.

How do you negotiate in “good faith?”

Like most things in life, a bit of preparation can go a long way. Here are some of the ways you can reduce your risk before approaching a dealership or private seller when buying a car:

Review your budget and credit

Doing your financial homework can help you determine what price range is truly affordable for you, instead of letting a salesperson decide. Loan payment calculators can also help you get a realistic view of affordability by taking interest rates and fees into account.

Get loan preapproval

Another factor in determining affordability is the amount of financing you get approved for. Having a loan preapproval from your bank or credit union, before visiting a dealer, has several benefits: it sets realistic expectations about the maximum sales price you can shop for and helps you avoid more expensive or even potentially predatory dealer financing. If the dealer can beat your preappoved loan offer either through one of its lender partners or through the manufacturer, you’ll know you’re getting the best deal possible.

Research market prices

Montoya, who purchases fleet vehicles for Edmunds, an auto industry research firm which tests cars, says the best way to prepare for a purchase is to understand the market price of the car you want. You can do this by looking up values through sites like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds, checking out a variety of ads and car-buying websites, and even by getting a few price quotes, so you can compare them to the offers you get from a dealership.

Research promotions

Having a sense of manufacturer and dealer promotions can not only help you narrow down which models to buy and which lots to visit in your area, but it can also help you understand if the dealer is truly offering a “one day only” sale, or if it’s just a tactic to pressure you into buying.

What are the warning signs that you should walk away from a car deal?

Interacting with a salesperson who’s been trained to haggle and close the deal might leave you feeling outwitted. Some level of stress is normal, but these are the real red flags to look out for:

Prices change after your initial negotiations.

For example, your trade-in value is lower than what you discussed or your monthly payments are higher. You should also look out for add-ons you didn’t agree to, like an extended warranty or a “service contract” that increases the overall price tag. Montoya says it should be a deal-breaker when written terms don’t match what you discussed.

The contract isn’t final.

It’s easy to assume that signing a contract means your deal is final, but some dealers include contingencies, including “spot deliveries” that might be “yo-yo transactions” meant to intentionally deceive buyers.

If your contract states, for example, that your financing isn’t final, you may be asked to come back later and get a different loan with worse terms, for the car you’ve already taken home. If the dealer won’t state in writing that your financing is final, they may be breaking the law. This is a definite sign that you should walk away.

You’re being pressured.

Brent Miller, executive director of a community center where musicians work, practice and perform in San Francisco, recently shopped for a new car. Miller says despite visiting a reputable dealership for his purchase, the salesperson repeatedly pushed him to make unwanted decisions. “It was amazing how much pressure there was to sign the contract without reading everything, even before I had a loan offer,” Miller says.

If you’re encouraged to buy a different car than the one you’re shopping for, or to close the deal without looking over the numbers, Montoya says you should walk away.

The seller is withholding information.

It’s a red flag if your salesperson gives unclear information about pricing and loan terms. If you can’t get a straight answer on what your monthly payment will be, the length of your repayment term or your interest rate, you shouldn’t sign a contract. A good tip is to keep your focus on the out-the-door price of the car — if you get the lowest price possible, a good monthly payment should follow.

Discriminatory practices

If you feel a dealer is attempting to take advantage of you based on your citizenship status, income or other factors, you should go elsewhere. One way dealers do this is by marketing to you and conducting negotiations in your first language and then offering you a contract in a different language, with higher fees. Regardless of the circumstances, never sign a contract if you’re unsure what it says.

How to walk away from a car deal

So you’ve attempted to negotiate a deal with no luck, or you’re simply uncomfortable with the transaction. It’s completely within your rights to walk away at any point before, and in some cases even after you sign your contract.

During negotiations

At this point, walking away is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. Montoya advises that even if the dealer already pulled your credit information, you’re still under no obligation to stay. While you may be concerned about the hit to your credit, know that making multiple auto loan applications within a short period of time will have a small impact on your scores.

If you’re having trouble ending the negotiations, Montoya suggests shutting down persistent salespeople by shifting the blame to someone else, like your spouse…even if you’re not married.

Whatever your explanation, walking away or telling the dealer you’re going to shop around is perfectly acceptable. If you really are interested in buying the car, walking away may also be a useful negotiation tactic.

Once you’ve seen the contract

Regardless of the time and effort invested by both parties, you are under no obligation to sign any contract you’ve been presented. At this point in the process you can still simply say “no” to the dealer.

After signing contract

If you sign a contract and drive away with a car, but then get called back based on a contingency, you may be able to walk away from the deal.

If you’re called back because financing fell through, you can demand to get your down payment back and unwind the entire transaction. To complete the process you’ll need to make sure that the application and contract are cancelled and that you get copies of all the documents.

If, on the other hand, you simply wish to return the car because you’ve changed your mind, your options may be limited. Some state laws may allow you to return your car if you discover it’s a lemon, but contrary to popular belief the “cooling off period” unfortunately doesn’t apply to cars.

In some circumstances you may have a special option to cancel, particularly when it comes to buying used cars. New York state law, for example, gives you a set amount of time to file paperwork and cancel your contract. Your dealer may also have a special clause that gives you time to reconsider and return your vehicle. But if neither your state nor your contract stipulates that you can cancel, your best shot is to ask the dealer to give special consideration to your case.

The bottom line

The best way to avoid a bad deal is to be your own biggest advocate. Educating yourself about market prices, understanding affordability and researching consumer protections in your state, all before you talk to a salesperson, can help you stand up to pressure and recognize red flags quickly.

Ultimately you shouldn’t be afraid to walk away, no matter how difficult the dealer makes it to leave. Both the car and the financing have to work for you. “I want people to buy a car when its right for them and do it on their own time,” says Montoya, “not a dealership’s time.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Sarah Brady
Sarah Brady |

Sarah Brady is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah here