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Shopping for a car is exciting, but plunking down so much cash can also rattle your nerves. The more you know about your purchase, the less anxiety you are likely to feel.
Fortunately, you can learn a tremendous amount about a car without spending a dime. All you need is an internet connection and the right websites.
The following sites are among those you should always check when researching or shopping for a new or used vehicle. Use the information here — combined with a vehicle history report from a service like Carfax — before you purchase your next set of wheels.
This listing of safety issues and recalls can be found on the website of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA is a federal agency tasked with keeping folks safe on the road. That includes monitoring safety recalls to make sure auto manufacturers remedy vehicle recalls properly.
So, always check before buying a vehicle. Simply enter the vehicle identification number (VIN), and NHTSA will tell you about any vehicle safety recalls that:
- Are incomplete.
- Were conducted over the past 15 years.
- Were conducted by certain major light automakers, including motorcycle manufacturers.
2. NICB’s VINCheck
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting insurance fraud.
The organization provides to help the public determine if a vehicle has been reported stolen but not recovered or if it has been reported as a salvage vehicle by the insurance companies that work with NICB. Just enter a VIN to use the service.
3. iSeeCars.com’s VIN Lookup
If you’re thinking about buying a used car — which you probably should — use service to get a VIN report that includes up to 200 data points.
According to the website, those data points can include:
- Price Analysis — estimation of how much we think is a fair value for the car based on analyzing similar cars for sale or cars sold in the same local area.
- Price History — a log of price changes and when each price was changed.
- Listing History — a record of the dates and places the car was historically listed for sale.
- Condition — analysis of mileage, positives and negatives about the vehicle, and other resources like vehicle history, theft record, and recalls.
- Dealer Scorecard — comparison of the dealer with other dealers in terms of price competitiveness, responsiveness and transparency.
- Projected Depreciation — estimation of how much the car will depreciate over 1, 2 and 3 years and in comparison with similar cars.
- Best Time to Buy (and Sell) — as with houses, cars also exhibit seasonal fluctuations. We analyze when or what months may get you a better price.
You can also finds other information on new and used vehicles on iSeeCars.com.
offers vehicle history reports that are based on information from public databases. You can look up a vehicle by VIN or by make and model.
This automotive research firm dates back to the 1960s. Its website is a wealth of information.
In particular, car shoppers should check out the:
- Your Price tool, which helps you find cars in your area based on everything from car features to payment methods.
- Incentives and Rebates page, which allows you to search for such offers by car type or make.
6. Kelley Blue Book
Kelley Blue Book, which has been around since 1926, is best known for its car price data. Its website also features reviews and data on cars for sale.
Pricing tools on KBB.com include:
7. Consumer Reports
This nonprofit organization does exhaustive and independent testing of all kinds of products, including vehicles. So, you should check before sinking much money into any purchases, and certainly one as large as a car.
You will need a subscription to access all Consumer Reports reviews, but your local library may already subscribe. If so, library members likely can access Consumer Reports publications for free.
Which websites do you use before shopping for a car? Share your insights by commenting below or on .
Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.