Honest Wheels
VIN Check

Our Data

Honest Wheels uses a variety of high-quality sources to help you find the most reliable vehicle that fits your needs. We are building the best source of information about the history of a vehicle to take the anxiety out of the car-buying process. You will find detailed information about our data sources on this page.

VIN Reports

Honest Wheels partners with a variety of organizations to provide our free VIN lookups, our complete vehicle history VIN checks, and our vehicle guides that help you find the most reliable cars to buy. Our VIN data comes from a number of different sources, including but not limited to:

NMVTIS and Other Federal and State Agencies

The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, or the NMVTIS, is the central source for title history. Insurance companies, salvage yards, and state motor vehicle agencies are required by law to report any changes in a vehicle’s title to this central database. We partner with state agencies, as well as agencies in Canada, to fill any gaps in this system and provide you with the most complete VIN check we can provide.

These federal agencies help us find any branded titles, such as salvage titles, junk titles, and others. These agencies provide odometer readings, as well as any records of manufacturer buybacks in accordance with local lemon laws. State and federal agencies also provide any registration records as well as theft, damage, and accident records that add vital information to our free VIN lookups as well as our complete VIN checks.

Auto Auctions and Salvage Auctions

Auto auctions are a common source of used vehicles for car dealerships. These auctions provide odometer readings and vehicle quality inspections that add more detail to the history of a car. We pay special attention to any records of a salvage auction: a sale at a salvage auction frequently indicates that a vehicle was severely damaged at some point in its past.

Insurance Companies

Insurance companies keep thorough records. From these records we can understand whether a vehicle was ever reported stolen or declared a loss which indicates that a vehicle was severely damaged at some point in its past.

Police and Fire Departments

Police and fire departments provide records of fire damage and theft.

Manufacturers

Vehicle manufacturers (like Ford or Honda) provide records of lemon buybacks. Occasionally, a new car owner will report a vehicle as defective and a manufacturer is compelled to repurchase the vehicle from the owner.

About Branded Titles

A vehicle’s title offers a detailed and official record of a vehicle’s history. Any major problems are likely to appear on a vehicle’s title: fire, flood or hail damage, salvage records indicating theft or damage, buyback records indicating defects, or odometer brands that flag suspicious mileage records for a vehicle. Titles are tracked and changed by official state and federal motor vehicle agencies, as well as salvage yards and other legally-tracked entities. The absence of any title changes means that a vehicle has a clean title; any other title changes are cause for concern. Read on to learn what different titles indicate.

Fire brand

Vehicle received major damage due to fire. A fire brand is usually issued if the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the fair market value for the vehicle.

Hail brand

Vehicle received major damage due to hail. A hail brand is usually issued if the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the fair market value for the vehicle.

Flood brand

Vehicle received major damage due to flood. A flood brand is usually issued if the cost to repair the vehicle exceeds the fair market value for the vehicle.

Junk or scrapped brand

Vehicle received major damage and the cost to repair the vehicle was close to the fair market value for the vehicle. Different states have different guidelines regarding when a junk brand should be issued. In some states, a junk brand indicates the same history as a salvage brand.

Manufacturer buyback

Vehicle was repurchased by the manufacturer after an owner declared the vehicle defective in accordance with state lemon laws. Lemon laws vary by state.

Lemon brand

Vehicle was repurchased by the manufacturer after an owner declared the vehicle defective in accordance with state lemon laws. Lemon laws vary by state.

Salvage brand

Vehicle received major damage and the cost to repair the vehicle was close to the fair market value for the vehicle. Different states have different guidelines regarding when a salvage brand should be issued. A salvage brand often indicates that the vehicle was not roadworthy when the brand was issued. Eleven states use salvage titles to indicate that the vehicle was stolen: AZ, FL, GA, IL, MD, MN, NJ, NM, NY, OK, and OR.

Rebuilt or rebuildable brand

Vehicle restored to operation after receiving major damage and/or a salvage brand. These repairs are usually significant. The state likely required an inspection and certification before issuing a rebuilt title.

Odometer brand (EML or NAM)

Odometer brands are issued for two reasons. First, when the mileage of the vehicle exceeds mechanical limits (EML). This happens when a vehicle has a five-digit odometer and the mileage of the car exceeds 100,000 miles. Second, when someone, like a mechanic or an auctioneer, flags that the odometer does not display the actual milesage (NAM). This happens when the odometer has been damaged, replaced, or even tampered with.

Fire damage record

Fire damage reported by an independent source.

Hail damage record

Hail damage reported by an independent source.

Flood damage record

Flood damage reported by an independent source.

Scrapped/Junk record

Vehicle reported as junked (not worth repairing) or scapped (disassembled for parts) by an auto auctioneer.

Reconstruct/Rebuilt record

Vehicle repored as rebuilt (repaired after receiving major damage) by an auto auctioneer.

Salvage auction record

Vehicle reported sold at a salvage auction by an auto auctioneer. This implies that the vehicle had major damage.

Major collision/damage record

Major damage reported by an independent resource.

Structural damage or structural alteration record

Reported damage to the structure of the vehicle, such as the frame or the unibody, or significant alteration to the vehicle's structure, such as lengthening or shortening the vehicle or modifying the suspension.

Recycling facility record

Vehicle reported scrapped or disassembled for parts by an automotive recycling facility.

Crash test record

Vehicle reported used for a high-speed crash test by the NHTSA or another group.

Insurance Loss record

Vehicle declared a loss because of an accident, damage, or theft by an insurance company. A loss is declared when the cost to repair the vehicle is near or exceeds the fair market value for the vehicle.

Titled to an insurance company record

Vehicle was titled to or registered with an insurance company. This likely indicates that the vehicle was declared a loss by an insurance company.

Auction Lemon/Manufacturer Buyback record

Vehicle was repurchased by the manufacturer after an owner declared the vehicle defective in accordance with state lemon laws. Lemon laws vary by state.

Abandoned title record

Vehicle was abandoned on a highway, a road, or on public or private property and recovered by the authorities.

Grey market title record

Vehicle was maunfactured in a different country and may not conform to state or federal safety standards. It may be difficult to pass a road inspection with a grey market vehicle.

Loan/Lien record(s)

A previous owner took out a loan to purchase this vehicle. When a car is purchased with a loan, the creditor receives a lien, or, the legal right to repossess the car if the debt is unpaid. Many vehicles have loan history; often, this is no cause for concern.

Repossessed record

Vehicle was repossessed by a creditor to relcaim the vehicle after an owner failed to pay off the vehicle's loan.

Corrected title record

State DMV issued a corrected title to address an earlier error or mistake.

Duplicate title record

State DMV issued a duplicate title by mistake.

Theft record(s)

Local, state, or federal police agencies report a record of theft associated with this vehicle.

NHTSA

The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is an agency of the federal government and focuses on vehicle safety. The NHTSA’s mandate is wide; the agency is responsible for creating safety standards, theft resistance regulations, and fuel economy measures. The agency also licenses vehicle manufacturers and issues unique vehicle identification numbers (VIN) for new vehicles.

In addition to these responsibilities, the NHTSA also records complaints from vehicle owners. These complaints, numbering over 1.6 million to date, are the basis for NHTSA investigations into vehicles. If a major problem is found, these complaints lead to official recalls. Honest Wheels uses these complaints and recalls to help you find a reliable ride.

NHTSA Complaints

Owners are free to submit a complaint about a vehicle, new or old, if they believe that their vehicles have a defect. Owners are required to submit a VIN, categorize their complaint and describe the defect. Over time, if a sufficient number of owners report a similar problem for the same vehicle—for example, trouble with air bags manufactured by Takata—the NHTSA will open an investigation into the defect.

We believe these complaints are an excellent source of information to help you find a reliable car. NHTSA complaints reveal what problems different cars have, when those problems occur, and how likely they are to occur. This information allows us to identify which years for a given model are better or worse than others. This information also allows us to compare the reliability of different models and different brands. Although self-reported and public data may be imperfect, we believe it is a bedrock source for understanding the history of a vehicle.

NHTSA Complaint Categories

In all, there are 23 different complaint types that we track on Honest Wheels. Our number of complaint types differs slightly from the complaint types that the NHTSA tracks: we combine several complaint types to help make our data easier to understand. Below, you’ll find a list and description of all the complaint types that we highlight.

Electrical System

Complaints include issues with electrical systems and items such as the battery, electrical fuses, circuit breakers, relays, wiring and cables, alternator, ignition switch, instrument panel and gauges, and motors and actuators that power mechanical devices (windows, sunroofs, seats, etc.) that may present a safety hazard.

Power Train

Complaints include issues with devices and systems that transmit power from the engine or propulsion device to the wheels such as automatic and manual transmissions, transfer cases, fluid cooling/management systems and related hoses and pipes, electronic control units and software, shift lever/gear control and indicator devices, clutches and torque convertors, drive axles, hubs, shafts, differentials, CV joints, housings and related fluid/lubrication management systems, and related safety systems such as neutral start or shift and key interlocks that may present a safety hazard.

Air Bags

Complaints include issues with passive restraint system items and devices that protect occupants in a crash such as front, side, side curtain, knee bolster, and center air bag devices, electronic control units and software, crash and inertial sensors, seat belt tensioners and other pyro-technic devices that may present a safety hazard. Some complaints concern accidents in which air bags failed to deploy.

Engine and Engine Cooling

Complaints include issues with the internal combustion engine and related systems that power the vehicle such as cooling (fan, radiator, hoses, coolant) and exhaust (catalyst, pipes, muffler) system components, fan/drive belt components, turbo/superchargers, and other related engine components for gasoline, diesel, or other internal combustion engines that may present a safety hazard.

Steering

Complaints include issues with devices and systems used to control vehicle direction to the driver's intent such as the steering wheel, steering column, column lock, steering rack/box, linkages, hydraulic power steering pumps and hoses, electrical power steering motors, actuators, wiring and related sensors, electronic control units and software, and other safety related steering components and systems that may present a safety hazard.

Brakes

Complaints include issues with items and systems intended to stop, slow, or secure the vehicle such as brake discs, drums, and friction materials (pads and shoes), parking brake, master cylinder, brake hoses, lines, and other hydraulic components, power brake booster, anti-lock brake system sensors and controls, the brake pedal, brake light switch, and other brake system related warning lights and devices that may present a safety hazard.

Structure

Complaints include issues with interior and exterior structural components of the vehicle such as door, hood, liftgate, tailgate and trunk panel latching/operation, rust, corrosion, or other failure or detachment of exterior body and frame components, and other structural components that may present a safety hazard.

Suspension

Complaints include issues with components that suspend the vehicle, allowing relative motion between the wheel, chassis, and body, such as springs, torsion bars, shocks, struts, spindles, control arms, ball joints, stabilizers and related components that may present a safety hazard.

Vehicle Speed Control

Complaints include issues with systems and devices intended to control (accelerate) the speed of the vehicle to the driver's intent such as the accelerator pedal, throttle control cables, linkages, actuators, electronic control units and software, cruise control system actuators and deactivating systems, and other components and systems that may interfere with the speed control system (e.g., floor mats).

Tires

Complaints include issues with tires such as premature wear, uneven wear, loss of traction, and other tire problems that may present a safety hazard.

Fuel System

Complaints include issues with systems that manage energy to power the vehicle such as fuel tanks, pumps, injectors, filters, pipes/lines and hoses for gasoline and diesel vehicles, and for electric, hybrid, hydrogen, LPN/natural gas or other alternative power vehicles including high voltage batteries and energy storage devices, controls, safety disconnects, pressure relief valves, and other safety related devices that may present a safety hazard.

Unknown or Other

Complaints include issues with all other systems, components, or devices that may present a safety hazard to occupants or pedestrians, or otherwise adversely affect the operator's ability to safely control the vehicle.

Visibility

Complaints include issues with systems and devices intended to provide or maintain the operator's ability to see the roadway such as the windshield, wipers, wiper motor and linkage, wiper controls, defroster/defogger, blower motor, side and rear window, rear view mirrors, sun/panoramic roof, and related electrical controls and wiring that may present a safety hazard.

Exterior Lighting

Complaints include issues with lighting systems for vehicle navigation, conspicuity, motion intent (head, brake, turn, marker, emergency, tail, reverse) bulbs and devices, control switches, relays, breakers and fuses, and safety related lighting devices that may present a safety hazard.

Seat Belts

Complaints include issues with active occupant control systems and devices intended to protect occupants during a crash such as seat belts, belt webbing, buckles, anchors, retractors, adjustors, D-rings, warning lights and audible devices for each passenger seating position that may present a safety hazard.

Equipment

Complaints include issues with equipment installed by the owner after the vehicle was purchased that may present a safety hazard.

Seats

Complaints include issues with systems and devices which seat occupants such as the seat frame, mounting, manual and power position adjustors and recliners, headrests, seat heating and cooling systems, and other related safety systems that may present a safety hazard.

Wheels

Complaints include issues with tires and devices that secure them to the vehicle in an appropriate manner such as wheels, lug studs and nuts, hubs, valve stems, pressure sensors, warning indicators, and related devices and systems that may present a safety hazard.

Latches, Locks, Linkages

Complaints include issues with doors, door handles, door locks that may present a safety hazard.

Driver Assist

Complaints include issues with systems intended to aid vehicle dynamic stability such as the electronic control unit and software, sensors, actuators, warning lights, fault codes, and performance related concerns of the electronic stability control system, as well as systems and devices intended to control the speed and direction of the vehicle to the driver's intent such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping, and blind spot detection.

Child Seat

Complaints include issues with child seats and restraint systems that may present a safety hazard.

Communications

Complaints include issues with communications equipment that may present a safety hazard.

Interior Lighting

Complaints include issues with lighting systems for occupant use in the interior (instrument panel, vanity, dome) control switches, relays, breakers and fuses, and safety related lighting devices that may present a safety hazard.

NHTSA Recalls

If the manufacturer is found to be at fault, the NHTSA can compel the vehicle manufacturer to issue a recall. Often, manufacturers will voluntarily issue recalls well before the NHTSA even opens an investigation. If a vehicle is recalled, manufacturers are required to fix, replace, refund, or even repurchase a troubled vehicle.

We believe that recalls are another important source of information that will guide you towards a reliable car. Simply put, a car with fewer recalls is more likely to be a reliable ride. In the future, we plan to share more information about what components were recalled and how many vehicles may have been affected. If you want to check whether your vehicle has been affected by a recall, follow this link to the NHTSA’s website.

Future Sources

We’re hard at work finding, cleaning, and combining new data sources to provide an even richer story about how reliable your new car might be. If you have a suggestion, please send us a note at feedback@honestwheels.com.