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How to check a used car from Europe? What are the online services?

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In 2022, Ukrainians bought more than 400,000 used cars abroad, most of which were brought from EU countries. When buying a used car, you need to be careful — itʼs easy to come across fraudsters who have learned how to mask defects well. It is difficult to evaluate a car yourself, but services that tell the true history of the car can help. We tell you how to check a used car by VIN online, without leaving your home.

Why is it important to check the history of a car before buying?

Itʼs a matter of money and security. Buying a used car, unlike a new one, is somewhat of a lottery. Owners use cars in different ways, under different conditions and do not always take care of them. Sometimes, a car with a mileage of several hundred thousand kilometers can be used for several more years. And the opposite happens: a car with a nominal mileage of 100,000 kilometers has been involved in an accident several times, has not been properly serviced and has a significantly lower residual life. But it is not profitable for owners to talk about defects — they reduce the value of the car.

It is difficult to check the car yourself: fraudsters skillfully mask defects even after serious accidents and have learned to forge original service documents. There are even cases of reduction of car mileage data in dealersʼ databases. If you do not check the history of the car, you risk buying one that is wanted by Interpol or that is in a bank lien. Defects not detected in time later turn into expensive repairs, and if the car is wanted, it can be confiscated.

From which European countries are the most problematic cars transported?

This is proportional to the volume of exports of used cars to Ukraine: Germany, Poland, France, Lithuania. Due to state control, the risk of encountering fraudsters is much lower in Belgium and the Netherlands, but the car market there is also small.

What problems do car owners most often try to hide?

Most often they aretwist the mileage. That is, on the odometer you see, for example, 200,000 kilometers, but in fact the car has driven 600,000. In the EU, from 30 to 50% of all cars on the market have twisted mileage, in Ukraine this indicator is even higher — up to 70%.

One and the same model, depending on mileage, can cost from several hundred to several thousand dollars, and every 100 thousand "winded" mileage is a specific amount of money, from $500 to $1,500. In addition, unreliable mileage can turn into permanent repairs, that is, real the price of the car will increase significantly.

The second problem is cars after an accident. The fact of the accident itself does not mean anything, but it is a reason to check more deeply how it was restored. Some cars after serious accidents are welded from two or three parts. Often, in such cars, instead of airbags, there are plugs, which will not save in the next accident.

The third problem is a deliberately changed VIN code of the car. This is a unique 17-digit car serial number that the car receives at the factory. The code contains information about the manufacturer, the year of manufacture and the characteristics of the car. The plate with the VIN code can be found on one of the parts of the car. Depending on the model, the code plate may be on the frame, under the seat, under the hood, under the wheel or in some other unexpected place.

If the code is broken, the registers will issue data about a completely different car. In the case of fraud, a newer one with less mileage, etc. Also, a car with a broken VIN code may be stolen or not cleared through customs. If this is found out only at the stage of issuing license plates, when the new owner of the car in Ukraine will undergo a mandatory expert inspection, the car will be impounded, and the owner will have to prove that he was not the one who broke the VIN code. No one will return the customs fees paid for such a car.

In most countries, in particular in Ukraine, tampering with the VIN code is a criminal offense in accordance with Art. 290 of the Criminal Code. For this, you can receive a fine from 201,300 to 335,500 hryvnias, correctional work for up to two years, or restriction of freedom for up to three years.

The fourth problem is the sale of stolen or leased cars. Unscrupulous dealers make fictitious documents for cars and sell them in Ukraine. If the European car was stolen recently, it might not have been submitted to the international wanted list yet. So the dealer has time to sell the car in Ukraine. The fact that the car did not belong to the seller will be discovered too late. Customs clearance in Ukraine does not include a theft check. It is carried out already after a person has paid customs payments and is going to get a car number at the service center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Only then will the base see that the car is wanted and arrest it. But there are services that allow you to do it earlier.

What are these services?

In the USA, the only car history check service is Carfax. There you can check all American cars by VIN code and find out in what condition the car left for Ukraine.

On the other hand, there are many countries in the EU, so there is no single database on the history of cars. Countries have different rules and not all allow access to car history. For example, in Sweden there is a public state registry available for checking cars. In Poland, for verification, the system requires data from the carʼs registration certificate, which is available only to the owner. The largest car market in Europe — Germany — generally does not publicly disclose the history of cars to third parties.

In Ukraine, two main services are fully operational for checking used cars from Europe: Lithuanian Carvertical and Czech Cebia. The principle of their work is the same — they pull data about European cars from various databases of almost all EU countries: state registries, marketplaces, service stations, insurance and leasing companies. In the form of a graph or timeline, they show how the car changed, its mileage, which accidents it got into and how often the owner changed. The user will receive this data if he enters the VIN code of the car and pays for a certain data package.

And what is the difference between Carvertical and Cebia? What is better to use?

Carvertical has a peculiarity: you do not know exactly what information will be in the report, and the price of the service does not depend on the data contained in the service database. First you buy the report — and only then you understand what you paid for.

Cebia, on the other hand, takes into account what exactly the user receives: advanced technical characteristics, the number of records about the carʼs mileage, service history, information about accidents and historical photos. The price of the report will depend on the available information.

Cebia uses only verified data sources and informs where the information comes from — from the insurance company, state register, partner service station or marketplace. Cebia also has more detailed information about cars from the Czech and Slovak markets.

So is Cebia better?

No, these services are simply different. And they have different data from different sources. One may contain more information about a specific car, the other may contain less. Therefore, it is better to check the car on both services.

How much does it cost to check a car?

It depends on how much information about the car is available in the service. If there is a complete package of data — for example, mileage data, service history and photos of the car at different times — it will cost 499 hryvnias at Cebia. If there are only technical parameters, data on factory defects and where the plate with the VIN code is located, it will cost 299 hryvnias.

The largest set of data in Carvertical costs 700 hryvnias. However, if you buy reports on several cars from them at once, it will be cheaper. For example, three reports will cost about 1,300 hryvnias instead of 2,100.

Okay, I decided to check the car at the service. What should I pay attention to?

The first is the location of the VIN code. Cebia will tell you exactly where the plate is located on this car. If it has traces of tampering, a different appearance or is completely absent, it means that the VIN code may have been broken.

The second is the number of owners. If the car changed ten owners in a few years (and you were not told about it), this should be alarming.

The third is data on a large insurance payment (for example, $15,000). This is a reason to think, because such payments are a sign of a serious accident. Also, the system may have a record of significant damage in an accident, as a result of which the car was "written off" in an EU country.

The fourth is anomalies with car mileage. To find out whether the mileage was twisted, you need to view the entire history. If the mileage increases smoothly over time, everything is fine. If there are sharp peaks on the graph, this is a sign of manipulation.

Sometimes in the service you can see duplicate cars : two cars of the same model use the same VIN code. This is visible when the system shows two mileage curves that go side by side. The service will not show which of the two cars is real. However, it should encourage better research into the history of the car. There are no absolutely identical cars. To understand that you have a fake, you need to analyze the VIN code data in detail and compare it with the car you decided to buy. Namely, compare the factory equipment, factory color, presence or absence of additional equipment and, most importantly, plates with VIN codes.

That is, checking the VIN code does not guarantee that everything is fine with the car?

No. Not all machines will have a lot of information — it depends on how much data is in the registers. It is necessary to take into account the actual technical condition of the machine and order physical checks at specialized stations. But checking the carʼs history online takes less than a minute and significantly reduces the risks. You can do it without leaving your home. If the service shows anomalies or suspicious data, this is a reason to think and additionally check the car so as not to lose money.

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