Are Carfax and Other Vehicle Reports Trustworthy?
If you've shopped for a used car in the past few years, you've probably heard of Carfax, Autocheck, and similar vehicle history reporting services. They purport to give you a reliable, independent look at a car’s major service records, title history, and other factors to help you gauge a used car’s value. But where does this data come from, and how complete is it? Here's the scoop...
Used Car Buying: Do Your Homework With Online Tools
If you're in the market for a used car, it's wise to learn all you can about a car before making a buying decision. But is it enough to ask the dealer "Show me the CARFAX"? Unfortunately, the answer is "maybe" and here's why...
Title histories are drawn from the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, which is maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice. A title history answers important questions, starting with “Does the seller legally own this car?” Various “brand” titles flag cars that have been flooded, declared total losses, salvaged, or sold as junk. Odometer readings taken at each title transfer can reveal whether an odometer has been rolled back.
The NMVTIS site lists ten commercial providers of vehicle history reports. Their prices range from free at CarsForSale.com to $15.99 at Carvertical.com, and the information they contain is equally variable. Each vendor has its own sources of information in addition to the NMVTIS data.
Vehicle history reports also draw data from other sources, including insurance companies, auto repair service shops, and police traffic accident reports. But not all relevant data is captured. If a car is repaired without resorting (or reporting) to insurance, whoever repaired it may not report to Carfax or its competitors. Repairs may never have been made at all, yet remain hidden from easy detection.
Getting Full Disclosure
Many used car dealers provide reports from Carfax, Autocheck, or both. The reports lend credibility to their sales pitches. But buyers should not rely on a report from a single vendor. Just as one anti-malware program may miss an infection that another catches, Carfax may reveal red flags that Autocheck doesn’t, and vice versa. If a dealer won’t provide reports from both leading services, take the one offered and run your own report on the other. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive.
All you need is a car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) or license plate number. Punch it in at Carfax.com or Autocheck.com and you’ll get a teasing summary of the car’s history. Pay a fee to download the complete report, which includes vehicle registration and title information, odometer readings, recall, accident and airbag deployment history, service and repair information, and vehicle usage (taxi, rental, lease, etc.) Both services offer package deals for shoppers who plan to check out several vehicles. A single Carfax report costs $39.95. If you researching multiple cars, you can purchase 3 reports for $59.99, or 6 reports for $99.99.
Carfax does offer a few free services such as Odometer Rollback Check and Recall Check. The free CARFAX Flood Check will tell you if you car has ever been in a flood. The top ten cities with flooded cars are listed there: New York, Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas top the list. The Airbag Safety Check will tell you if your car's airbag deployment has been reported. There's also information about stolen, fake and recycled airbags.
One Autocheck report costs $24.95, or you can purchase 5 reports within 21 days for $49.99. The report gives you the vehicle history and an AutoCheck Score, which ranges from 1 to 100. The score factors in any accidents, vehicle mileage, odometer problems, frame or water damage, and if the title shows the car was salvaged, rebuilt, branded as a lemon, stolen or repossessed, and if the vehicle has ever been used as a police vehicle or taxi. You'll also see the score range for similar vehicles. Your purchase includes access to "dynamic vehicle data updates for 21 days".
The price differences between Carfax and AutoCheck do not indicate which service is better. Carfax is strictly in the vehicle history business, while Autocheck is a subsidiary of credit reporting agency Experian. Autocheck may well be a subsidized lead-generator for other Experian products. Keep in mind that most car dealers (and some cars for sale websites) will provide Carfax report or AutoCheck report for free.
I'm certainly not saying that Carfax and similar services are dishonest or worthless. Just don't let a “clean” vehicle history report lull you into a false sense of security. The best protection against buying an expensive headache or paying too much is a hands-on inspection by an auto mechanic you trust. Vehicle history reports are just an intermediate step between a test drive and a mechanic’s inspection. You can find more car buying tips in my related article Is There a Big Red Bow in Your Future?.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 9 Feb 2021
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are Carfax and Other Vehicle Reports Trustworthy? (Posted: 9 Feb 2021)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved