Is it OK to give out my car's VIN?
May 2, 2023 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Trying to sell my car. Possible buyer wants the VIN. Should I?

I put my car on Facebook Marketplace, and have gotten some hits. One such responder (via Messenger) asked a few questions that made them seem legit, and then asked if I would supply the car's VIN. That seemed a little sketchy to me, but I'm not sure why.

I assume they're going to run a CarFax or somesort to get the car's past history, which is perfectly fine. But, my paranoid internet brain says don't give it out over Messenger. Or any other e-communication until I know definitely they're legit.

Am I being undully paranoid here? What's the worst that could happen if I gave them the VIN?
posted by Thorzdad to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It’s one of those things that’s not exactly a secret, so I wouldn’t be too terribly concerned. You can go up to any car in the US and write down the VIN from outside the windshield, so if there was too much risk for title fraud, I think it would be pretty commonly understood by now.

I’ve never bought a used car without running a history report. If you wanted to qualify the buyer, have them meet you to see the car and they can get the VIN, then.
posted by hwyengr at 10:28 AM on May 2, 2023 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, the VIN alone isn't going to enable them to do anything malicious, and as pointed out above, on any reasonably modern car in the US it's openly visible to passerby. They probably want to run a report, or look it up by VIN to verify trim level, factory options, engine & transmission, etc.

You could use it to qualify a buyer, but especially if it was a car that I was going to have to drive a couple hours to go see, as a buyer that'd make me nope out. For a trip like that, I'd have run a report on the VIN before deciding if it was worth the trip. There's really no harm in giving it out. Most (all?) Carfax-ish reports will also show the condition of the title; if it's clean, salvage, flood/rebuilt etc. All of which a buyer would want to know up-front.
posted by xedrik at 10:44 AM on May 2, 2023 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, hwyengr and xedrik. I ended up sharing the VIN.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:02 AM on May 2, 2023

Be careful. The other posters are correct that the VIN is not exactly a state secret, but there is a scam on Facebook Marketplace where scammers try to make you pay for a fake report on a bogus vehicle history site (they will claim Carfax isn't working). They will then flee with the money. Do not pay for someone else's "history report". Example.
posted by Seeking Direction at 12:09 PM on May 2, 2023 [8 favorites]

It’s reasonable for you to run your own report and share it with buyers- I’ve always had that when considering a used car.

Note that you may (?) only be able to print it once (?) I’m actually not sure if that’s true and it seems unlikely, but a couple years ago, a used car salesman was annoyed when I wrote notes on a report printout he gave me, as I didn’t expect him to want it back - he said he would have to pay again to reprint it. So just check that before handing them out!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 12:51 PM on May 2, 2023

In some states, a buyer can go to the state DMV site with a VIN and calculate the cost for taxes, fees and registration. California is one of those states. Buyers use the website to make certain that the registration claimed by the seller is accurate. Some sellers will try to sell a car that has hundreds (or thousands!) in back registration fees, claiming the tags are current, saddling the buyer with a car that is uneconomic to register, or that can't be registered at all.

I won't even go look at a car without knowing the VIN in advance so I can run the DMV registration calculation. Craigslist has a spot to routinely list the VIN on ads for this reason. Repeat used car buyers look askance at sellers who won't provide the VIN. There really is nothing a buyer can do with the VIN to cause the seller harm.

A buyer who asks for the VIN is likely someone who has bought a used car from a private seller before, or has help from someone who has done so. An experienced buyer may be more likely to know what e is seeking, show up with cash, and complete the purchase.
posted by KayQuestions at 7:25 PM on May 2, 2023 [1 favorite]

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