May 26, 2016

New York Vehicle Identification Numbers
Why should you run a VIN or a vehicle history check?

Having a VIN check or a motor vehicle history check will provide you with essential information about your vehicle and the history of your vehicle. Depending on which source you use this information can include:

  • The past ownership of the vehicle, including:
    • The number of owners the car has had;
    • The odometer readings each time the car has changed hands – this information can give you clues as to how hard a vehicle has been driven and whether the odometer has possibly been rolled back (a common practice.) This helps to provide a good estimate for a cars life expectancy.
  • Liens on the vehicle
    • If you purchase a vehicle which has a lien on it the lien automatically transfers to you. In some states this is true even with child support – the monies owed are tied to the car and not to the person necessarily. If the lien transfers to you then you will be liable for the lien and run the risk of having your car reposed if the loan remains unpaid.
  • Title & Accident History – this includes accident reports, flood damage, and salvage title branding.
    • A title check can also help determine if the individual who owns the vehicle is actually the person who is selling you the car.
  • Faulty Odometer settings & rollback alerts
    • A seller may illegally turn back an odometer so that the vehicle appears to have lower mileage. This will increase the final sale price or the bluebook value of a vehicle.
  • “Lemon” determination
    • Some VIN number lookups may flag some vehicles as lemons per the New York Lemon Law and will show if the manufacturer has repurchased it.

Some companies which provide VIN checks may also include additional information, such as when the vehicle was serviced or if it was ever sold at an auction.

Where do you get a VIN check in the state of New York?

In New York, you can check the status of a Title Certification or a Lien on a Vehicle online through the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. You will need to provide the VIN, the model year of the car, and the make of the vehicle.

The New York Department of Motor Vehicles, Vehicle Registration and Title Record (Abstract) are also available online through the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles. The elements of an abstract record are set by law and continue information such as:

  • Header – this includes the registrant’s
    • Name
    • Mailing Address (City, State, and ZiP code);
    • Date of Birth; and
    • Sex
  • Also included in the header is the following information about the vehicle:
    • Plate number
    • Type of registration
    • Registration Expiration Date
    • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or hull identification number (HIN) for boats;
    • Year
    • Make
    • Color
    • Body Type
    • Weight
    • Fuel Type
    • Number of Cylinders

The “Activity” section includes:

  • Other vehicles which were previously registered to the plate number with year, make, color, body type, weight, fuel, cylinders, and VIN for each vehicle included;
  • Previous plate numbers which have been replaced by the current plate number;
  • Events which affect the registration status, including lapses in insurance and even parking violation may appear on a registration abstract.

The website for New York has a special Department which notifies residents of vehicles which have been damaged by hurricanes such as Harvey and Sandy that have been deemed a total loss may be brought to New York to be “rebuilt.” The state has a list of “considerations” for consumers considering purchasing rebuilt vehicles, including:

  • Research any rebuilt vehicle before purchasing it by getting a vehicle history report and having it inspected by an independent mechanic;
  • Know ahead of time that it may be difficult to get a loan or insurance on a rebuilt vehicle;
  • Motorists who drive a rebuilt vehicle back to the state where it was branded with a title of damaged, totaled, or flooded (scrap) run the risk of having the vehicle confiscated if they are stopped by law enforcement; and
  • Vehicles which have been “rebuilt” can’t be sold to consumers in most states in America.

New York does have a Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection which is part of the Economic Justice Division who prosecutes businesses and individuals who are engaged in fraudulent, misleading, deceptive, or illegal activities or trade practices. They also investigate thousands of complaints every year from consumers and helps drafts legislation on emerging consumer problems and issues. One such example is Hurricane Sandy which destroyed much of the East Coast and many of the cars there. The Consumer Helpline for the Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection is 1-800-771-7733.

National Motor Vehicle Title Information System is a database which provides data on cars that have been in recycling yards, junkyards, and salvage yards. They provide information in five key areas which are associated with auto fraud and theft:

  1. Current State Title and Last Title Date;
  2. Brand History – these are descriptive labels applied by motor vehicle titling agencies and include the terms “junk,” “salvage,” and “flood.” This helps protect consumers from purchasing a damaged vehicle without knowing the condition of the car. In New York, which allows consumers to purchase “rebuilt” cars, knowing the history and the “brand” of a car may save you from paying far more than a vehicle is worth or from buying a vehicle which is unsafe or has the potential to be unsafe due to its history;
  3. Odometer Reading – people have been known to “roll the odometer back” to decrease the appearance of miles on a vehicle. This makes the vehicle appear to be worth more than it is worth, and it may also cause a consumer to purchase a vehicle which is unsafe. Odometer readings are recorded at the transfer of the title, so it can be a useful tool to check for any discrepancies of the vehicle’s history;
  4. Total Loss History – when a vehicle has been declared a total loss it has had severe damage. Knowing this information could save a consumer from paying more than what the vehicle is worth or from purchasing a vehicle which is unsafe; and
  5. Salvage History – vehicles with a salvage history have had severe damage. Knowing this information could save you money or save you from purchasing a car that is unsafe.

There is also a free database, VINcheck, which is run by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB.) They provide free VIN checks to the public which will tell you if the car has been reported stolen and not found, and if the vehicle has been in a salvage yard. There are other private and public websites which can be easily found by a quick search on the Internet, but NMVTIS and VINcheck are two that you should absolutely check out before buying a car.

Checking the Status of a Title Certificate of a Lien in New York through the Department of Motor Vehicles:

New York State DMV-Internet Office Transactions

Get a vehicle registration or title record

Key to Abstract of Registration Plate Record/Abstract of Vehicle Title Record (DS-242.2)

Better Business Bureau Storm/Disaster Recovery Resources – Consumer Insurance, Legal & Financial Help

Better Business Bureau Giving to Disaster Recovery Resources


Why are VIN checks so important in New York?

VIN fraud is illegal and is a felony in both the state of New York and in the United States, including when the VIN is removed during the restoration of a car. The best ways to protect yourself, from becoming the victim of vehicle fraud is to obtain a Vehicle History Report, which will include information such as:

  • Information on the past owners, including:
    • The number of owners the car has had; and
    • The odometer readings at the time of each change in ownership.
  • Whether there are liens on the vehicle – if you purchase a vehicle which has liens against it then you may be unwittingly assuming those loans when you buy the vehicle. This can even include liens such as child support which are tied to the owner of the car and not to the car itself;
  • Brand History – such as if the car was every used as a police car or a taxi;
  • Title and accident history – this will usually include any accident reports, information regarding whether the car was involved in a flood, whether the car has been in a salvage yard, and will also tell you the name of the legal owner of the car;
  • Odometer settings and rollback alerts – sellers of cars have been known to “rollback” the numbers on the odometer so that the car appears to have lower mileage which increases the value of the car; and
  • “Lemon” determination – a VIN check will alert you if your car has been deemed a “lemon” and been repurchased by the manufacturer.

Some VIN checks may even tell you information as specific as the dates of servicing of the vehicle or if it has previously been sold at an auction.



Lemon Law in New York

Lemon laws in the State of New York are formally called the Tanner Consumer Protection Act or the New Car Lemon Law, can be found in Gen Bus §198-a. This law provides a remedy for consumers who have purchased or leased new cars and certain “used” cars which turn out to be “lemons.” If a vehicle doesn’t conform to the terms of its written warranty and the manufacturer or authorized retailer either cannot or will not repair the vehicle after a certain number of attempts, then the consumer is due either a replacement or a refund.

The lemon law in New York doesn’t cover all vehicles, such as when the problem does not substantially impair the value of the car, or if the problem is a result of abuse, neglect, or unauthorized alterations of the vehicle.

Vehicles which are covered by the New York lemon law include:

  • Cars which were covered by a warranty at the time of original delivery; AND
  • Vehicles purchased, leased or transferred within the first 18,000 miles or two (2) years from the date of original delivery; AND
  • Was either purchased, leased or transferred in New York State or is presently registered in New York State; AND
  • Is used primarily for personal purposes.

If your car has a problem and you think it might be a lemon, you should:

  • Report to the manufacturer or to its authorized dealer any defect or condition IMMEDIATELY. If the consumer reports the problem to the dealer, the law requires the dealer to forward written notice to the manufacturer within seven (7) days;
  • Keep careful records of all complaints, correspondence, copies of all work orders, repair bills and any other bills you accrued as a direct result of the defect; and
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles at (318) 474-8973 or fill out the online form if you have problems with repair orders. You can also mail the completed form to:

    Attorney General’s Lemon Law Unit

    28 Liberty Street

    New York, NY 10005

The manufacturer must be given a reasonable chance to repair the vehicle or the opportunity to allow one of their authorized agents to attempt to repair. The law presumes that you have given the manufacturer and/or its agents a “reasonable change” to repair the defect. In the state of New York, a “reasonable chance” is considered to be:

  • Four (4) or more attempts to repair, yet the problem still exists; OR
  • The vehicle is out of service and is either being repaired or is in the repair shop for one or more problems for a cumulative total of thirty (30) days or more.

Brochure from the State of New York Office of the Attorney General “New York’s Lemon Law. A Guide for Consumers.”:

A Guide for Consumers

New York State New Car Lemon Law Consumer Bill of Rights

New Car Guide

New Car Lemon Law Fact Street

New Car Lemon Law Form

New York State Dispute Resolution Association, Inc. (NYSDRA)

Better Business Bureau

Used Car Lemon Law in New York State

While most states do not have a Lemon Law for used cars, New York is one state which does provide coverage for used cars. Used cars which are covered include:

  • Was purchased, leased, or transferred after the earlier of 18,000 miles or two (2) year from the date of original delivery; AND
  • Was purchased or leased from a New York dealer; AND
  • Had a purchase price or lease value of at least $1,500; AND
  • Has been driven less than 100,000 miles at the time of purchase/lease; AND
  • Is used primarily for personal purposes.

According to the Better Business Bureau, another condition is that the car was purchased from someone who sold or attempted to sell three or more vehicles in the previous twelve (12) months.

Warranty Requirements:

Auto dealers are required by law to provide you a written warranty which covers the following parts:

  • Engine: lubricated parts, water pump, fuel pump, manifolds, engine block, cylinder head, rotary engine housings and flywheel;
  • Transmission: the transmission case, internal parts, and the torque converter;
  • Drive Axle: the front and rear axle housing and internal parts, axle shafts, propeller shafts, and universal joints;
  • Brakes: master cylinder, vacuum assist booster wheel cylinders, hydraulic lines and fittings and disc brake calipers;
  • Steering: the steering gear housing and all internal parts, power steering pump, valve body, piston and rack.
  • Other Parts: Radiator, Alternator, Generator, Starter, and Ignition System (not including the battery.)

Just as with new cars, the dealer or manufacturer has a duty to repair a problem with a used car. A “reasonable chance” is considered to be:

  • Three (3) or more repair attempts and yet the problem or defect continues to exist; OR
  • If the car is out of service because it is being repaired for a cumulative total of fifteen (15) days or more; however, unavailability of parts may extend this time period.

    There are exceptions when an auto dealer may not be required to provide a refund:

    • When the problem does not substantially impair the value to the car or to the consumer; OR
    • The problem is a result of abuse, neglect, or unauthorized alterations of the car.

What should a consumer do if they become aware of a problem with their car?

  • Immediately report any malfunctions or defect of a covered part to the dealer and request the car be repaired. If the consumer has notified the dealer of a problem within the warranty period, then the dealer must make the repair even if the warranty has subsequently expired;
  • Keep careful records of all complaints, and copies of all work orders, repair bills, correspondence, and other costs that are directly due to the defect.

If you have questions about your rights under the Used Car Lemon Law you should contact the Attorney General’s consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.

Used Car Guide

Used Car Lemon Law Fact Sheet

Used Car Lemon Law Form

Better Business Bureau Used Car Lemon Law

Attorney General’s Consumer Help Line for the Used Car Lemon Law

New York State Used Car Lemon Law Consumer Bill of Rights

Better Business Bureau

Arbitration Process

Unlike most states, New York administers its own Lemon Law Arbitration Program, the “New York State Dispute Resolution Association, Inc.,” through a contract with the Attorney General’s Office to provide an efficient, independent, and fair forum to help mediate disputes for consumers whose new or used cars turn out as “lemons.”

New/Leased Cars, Motor Homes, and Motorcycles:

This program covers new or leased cars, motor homes, and motorcycles vehicles that were purchased, leased, or registered in New York State for person use and which have a serious problem or defect that remains uncorrected after four (4) or more attempts to repair attempts, or is out of service due to repair for at least 30 days within the first 18,000 miles or two (2) years – whichever occurs first – may be entitled to the Lemon Law Arbitration Program.

If the consumer is successful, they are entitled to either a full refund of the purchase price of the vehicle (minus a fee for mileage exceeding 12,000 miles), or a comparable replacement vehicle. The consumer will also be awarded the amount of $250.00 as a refund for filing the arbitration filing fee if the arbitrators rule in their favor.

Used Cars and Motorcycles:

A vehicle purchased or leased from a New York State dealer (meaning a dealer who sold or offered to sell three (3) more cars within the previous 12-month period) for personal use which had more than 18,0000 miles is also subject to Lemon Law coverage depending on the mileage on the vehicle at the time of the purchase according to the chart below:

  • 18,000-36,000 Miles At Purchase – Duration of Warranty 90 days or 4,000 miles;
  • 36,001-79,999 Miles At Purchase – Duration of Warranty 60 days or 3,000 miles; and
  • 80,000-100,000 Miles At Purchase – Duration of Warranty 30 days or 1,000 miles.

If a part covered by the law is the origin of a serious defect and it remains uncorrected after three (3) or more repair attempts or if the vehicle is out of service for at least 15 days within the appropriate statutory period, the consumer may be eligible for Lemon Law help through the arbitration program. If the arbitration board rules in the consumer’s favor then they will be refunded both the purchase price of the vehicle as well as the $120,00 arbitration fee.

Lease Excess Wear and Damage Law Program:

New York’s Lease Excess Wear and Damage Law provides a legal remedy for consumers who lease a new or used motor vehicle and dispute excess wear and damage charges that the leasing company claimed against them upon the termination of the lease. The Lease Excess Wear and Damage Program enables a consumer to contest:

  1. Whether damage to the leased vehicles exists;
  2. Whether such damage constitutes “excess” wear and damage above beyond normal wear and damage;
  3. The amount of the charges sought by the lessor for excess water and damage; and
  4. Whether the lessor complied with the lease-end notice and vehicle access requirements.

If successful, the consumer is not required to pay for excess damage and will be entitled to a refund of the $75.00 arbitration filing fee.

To file a complaint call the Attorney General’s Office at (800) 771-7755 or you can file a complaint online. There is also a NYSDRA’s Lemon Law Hotline at (888) 82-LEMON (82-53666.)

Brochure from the State of New York Office of the Attorney General “New York’s Lemon Law. A Guide for Consumers.”:

A Guide for Consumers

New York State New Car Lemon Law Consumer Bill of Rights

New York State Attorney General Consumer Help line for cars eligible for the New Lemon Law

Lemon Law Arbitration Regulations in New York State

Filing a complaint with the Attorney General Lemon Law online

Do you need to hire an attorney for a lemon law case in New York?

While it is not necessary to hire an attorney for a lemon law case, it may be a wise decision depending on the amount of time that you are able to commit to fighting a large company and your knowledge of the law and the legal system. If you do not have an attorney, the New York State Bar Association is a good place to look and they even have an online search.

New York State Bar Association

1 Elk Street

Albany, NY 12207


You are searching for an attorney who:

  • Seek experienced attorneys – A New York lawyer who specializes in lemon law cases will have specialized knowledge in relevant New York laws and procedures;
  • Comes highly recommended – ask friends and family if they know any good attorneys. Ask for a recommendation from people you know who may have worked with lemon law lawyers before;
  • Schedule a consultation – book a free consultation with a few lemon law attorneys so that you can learn more about them and their experience; and
  • Ask about their fees – Make sure that you understand how much the attorney charges and when you will be expected to pay (up front, installments, after the case, or do they take the case on a contingency basis?)

New York State Bar Association

What are some of the benefits of hiring an attorney for a lemon law case?

It is important to remember that the manufacturer of the car and the dealers will have legal experts on their side and you might want the same kind of expertise on your side. A lawyer will represent you in court, but they will also:

  • Explain the lemon law in the state of New York to you and help you to understand both the process and the possible outcomes;
  • Help you to gather all the necessary documents;
  • Help to ensure that the manufacturer is treating you fairly;
  • Help save you time by handling the communication and other actions on your behalf; and
  • Help you to navigate the courts and the legal terms.

New York State Bar Association

DMV Office
Department of Motor Vehicles · The Mall at Greece Ridge
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Livingston County Motor Vehicles
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1 585-243-7177

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1 716-858-7450

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