New national registry lets you inexpensively look up your used car's history

If you'd like to make sure the used car you're about to purchase wasn't once used by, say, a sweet old widow before it was pilfered by a gang of auto thieves and then eventually sold to your dealership, this is the place to go: the NMVTIS, or National Motor Vehicle Title Information System Resource Center.

This is otherwise know as "the wreck registry."

Last Friday, after 16 years of litigation from three consumer safety groups, the U.S. Department of Justice has created an online database available to states, law enforcement officials and consumers who want to discover the origins of their automobiles.

The fee for accessing this information--through third-party companies that can be found at the NMVTIS web site--is $2.25 to $3.50. The national database will include cars that have been stolen, in wrecks, or decimated in a fire or flood. The database keeps track of the cars by their VIN (vehicle identification number). The VIN is to cars what fingerprints are to humans.