DMV VIN search - How to Run, Limitations and Alternatives
DMV VIN search seems like the most natural option for most used car buyers, judging "who else but the DMV should know about vehicles most?" Partially, that's correct - within the limits of the state the vehicle is currently registered in. As to the states in was or might be registered in in the past, DMV searches are not so much optimistic. Unfortunately, quite often vehicle history data is not shared between different states. Leaving aside the question "whose fault is that?", what we get is that the history data from local DMV offices in incomplete and often misses accident or damage data, specific types of use, liens and other critical information.
Tips for DMV VIN search
If you still want to give a try to DMV VIN search, mind the following:
DMV.org in not a governmental but a privately owned website. It shares information about VIN checks, used car buying issues, etc, but that's not an official DMV site (which you'll be warned of as you enter the site).
Each local DMV has it's own regulations concerning VIN history researches. The amounts of data you may get from the DMV also differ. In some states, you may apply online by filling out an online request form and paying a small fee. In some, you have to go to your local office and file your application on paper. Be ready for all sorts of bureaucratic impediments and delays if that's the only way your office processes requests. Some information, such as police or thefts recorded can even be obtained by phone in some states, although that's apparently not enough to make an informed decision on buying a vehicle. Check your state's DMV site for exact procedures, addresses and phone numbers.
DMV VIN history search in not always instant (unlike with online VIN search services), in certain cases your request may be processed for a few days.
DMV title search actually makes sense, but only for the current title for, as was stated above, states still fail to share vehicle history data with each other and it's honest unaware buyers who suffer in the first instance, while thieves and unfair dealers happily benefit from. The vehicle history a buyer needs to be aware of covers much more than just title history, it includes the information about any types of damage (water, fire, hail, etc), accidents, legal issues (like thefts), lien and loans, lemon certificate, title cleanup and much more. Even is you current papers seem alright and correspond current DMV records, don't get too much excited for it's the past one needs to be cautions about.
In some cases, like with travel trailer's VIN search at the DMV is the only way to find out about the VIN history. The reason is that major VIN search companies like Autocheck of Carfax collect little travel trailers data. History records will be found not for every trailer.