Are Carfax and Other Vehicle Reports Trustworthy?

Category: Auto

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 to $15.99 at, and the information they contain is equally variable. Each vendor has its own sources of information in addition to the NMVTIS data.

Carfax Auto History

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.

You can find more car buying tips in my related article Is There a Big Red Bow in Your Future?. Learn how to do all your car buying research (and maybe even your purchase) online.

All you need is a car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) or license plate number. Punch it in at or 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...

Ask Your Computer or Internet Question

  (Enter your question in the box above.)

It's Guaranteed to Make You Smarter...

AskBob Updates: Boost your Internet IQ & solve computer problems.
Get your FREE Subscription!


Check out other articles in this category:

Link to this article from your site or blog. Just copy and paste from this box:

This article was posted by on 9 Feb 2021

For Fun: Buy Bob a Snickers.

Prev Article:
How to Control Facebook Ads (sort of)

The Top Twenty
Next Article:
Geekly Update - 10 February 2021

Most recent comments on "Are Carfax and Other Vehicle Reports Trustworthy?"

Posted by:

09 Feb 2021

Having recently shopped for a used car for my son, I noticed that many used car dealers are providing the full CarFax report at no cost. Very helpful.

Posted by:

09 Feb 2021

I affirm all you mentioned but want to add - the dealership that gave me the free Carfax report showing a clean slate denied the accident the car had been in as evidently they must have known about as they changed the hubcap and had evidently painted the door but didn’t do the finishing of the pin-stripes along the side of the car door (which may have been replaced. It was sketchy. The point is if the previous owner didn’t get the body work done “officially” - it won’t show up in any report, free or with the fee. It’s a buyer-be-ware game.

Posted by:

09 Feb 2021

I affirm all you mentioned but want to add - the dealership that gave me the free Carfax report showing a clean slate denied the accident the car had been in as evidently they must have known about as they changed the hubcap and had evidently painted the door but didn’t do the finishing of the pin-stripes along the side of the car door (which may have been replaced. It was sketchy. The point is if the previous owner didn’t get the body work done “officially” - it won’t show up in any report, free or with the fee. It’s a buyer-be-ware game.

Posted by:

09 Feb 2021

People must understand that these reports can only contain information that is reported to them, or what they gleam from researching available sources. My used Hyundai shows a "clean" record but it is obvious from inspecting the car that it had been in some kind of trauma in the past. Not a small one either.
We still bought it because it was inexpensive and has been OK with us with total repairs so far totaling around $1500 over 4 years. Not bad for a 20 year old car. Runs like a real trooper.

Posted by:

Keith Hartman
09 Feb 2021

In 2004 bought for my two sons (age 18& 22)a 2001 Honda Accord, cheap because it had a salvage title! Rear ended, it appeared. Son #1 had it for four years, then son #2 finished off 250,000 and declared two years ago the car to be lost to age, rust, and unreliability. He loved that car and personally dismantled it to see what it looked like "underneath." Bought another Honda.

Bought a 2000 Toyota Tacoma same year as old Honda, son #1 a finish carpenter who rolled up the miles. Also got so rusty that frame was dangerous, and Toyota offered 14,000 to get truck off the streets.

Amazing stories, kudos to Toyota for cash for another truck, and Honda built for a guy to love!

Posted by:

09 Feb 2021

Long story short, I traded a BMW I owned from new,in on a Lexus SUV and was told carfax reported it had been in an accident. I admitted to hail damage repair but never a fender bender. False report. Carfax stood by their report and wouldn't revisit. Almost told the dealer to pound salt. They sold me the SUV.

Posted by:

Robert A.
09 Feb 2021

CarFax and other similar reports aside, anyone who buys a car sight-unseen, or without spending at least an hour walking around the car and poking one's head under the hood, in the trunk, underneath the car, and testing out all the necessary systems (horn, radio, power windows, wipers, A/C, etc.) is very likely going to be taken to the cleaners. Most used cars sold at dealers are sold pretty much as-is/where is, especially those independent used-car dealers not part of a new car dealership, that feature "Buy here, Pay here sales plans.

Always inspect a car in broad daylight, as darkness can cause shadows that can hide body damage. Also, inspect the car with at least one other person, as extra pairs of eyes can spot potential issues. Also beware of cars that are flood victims, especially ones that were swamped in a Gulf Coast or East Coast hurricane. The salt water usually damages the costly electronic systems, which usually results in a car being totaled out by an insurance company. Evidence of flood damage include a strong musty odor, dirt, debris, leaves and twigs around the engine and radiator, and water and/or dirt in the well where the spare tire is located, or water in the head or tail light assemblies.

Steve Lehto, a Michigan attorney, who specializes in automobile lemon law, and has a twice-daily YouTube Vlog under the name of "Lehto's Law," often warns his viewers about the dangers of believing a CarFax report as being gospel, when they can only report information that they get fro legitimate dealers and insurance companies.

Posted by:

09 Feb 2021

I buy and sell cars. Yes, I will review Carfax but will not depend 100% on the report. Just be careful and don't depend on the dealership only.

Posted by:

Robert Quance
09 Feb 2021

My two cents about CarFax and the like. When I bought my 2012 Prius it had evidence of being in a small accident, got hit in the rear. The Accident never showed up on any car history reports except the Toyota companies Vin number lookup so Carfax was useless in verifying an accident and the Prius being 99% repaired. Use at least 3 or more car report sites if possible.

Posted by:

Tom Hargrave
10 Feb 2021

I've worked on a lot of cars. I have done drive train to body work, none reported to any agency. And none of this was illegal or immoral. An older car with a replaced fender or major engine work is no worse than another like it that has not had the work done, and sometimes its even better.

What is immoral in my book are what I call patch jobs. It's the cars with oil thickeners added to the crankcase to hide a oil use problem or a rusty car that's been patched and painted while the rust keeps eating away underneath.

In my opinion these reporting services should be taken as what they are - as a documented repair history. If you don't work on them yourself you should take any car you are interested in along with it's CarFAX to a mechanic you trust. There is nothing wrong with a car that's been repaired correctly after an accident or a car that's had major engine or transmission service.

And there is definitely nothing wrong with buying a car that's been totaled and correctly repaired. The insurance company's decision to total a car is financial and not safety based. Often a 5 year old car will be totaled after a door and fender are damaged. The shop repairing the car will bolt on a good used fender and door then he will have the entire car repainted or just color match the door and fender. He will also verify frame alignment and then have the state inspect the work for a salvaged title.

Posted by:

Martin Robinson
22 Feb 2021

I personally had a positive experience with a carfax - when I was looking for a car last year, in most of the listings carfax report was already attached. The reports were of a various quality but they provided me the main things I was interested in and in the end I got a Chevrolet that has caused me no problems so far.

Posted by:

Andrew P.
23 Feb 2021

I was buying the first cars for my children in 2018 and 2020 so I had a chance to try and compare a few of the services this article discusses. I liked carvertical the most for a few reasons - it's much cheaper than a carfax, it does provide all the necessary information like mileage, registry data, police records, it also has the old photos of a car, damage and accident report, and it simply works much smoother.

Posted by:

David Mon.
24 Feb 2021

I do believe than in a digital age these reports are not only trustworthy but also necessary when buying a car. I've tried only a few of them - carvertical and autodna and I was satisfied with a quality of each one. I know some people have doubts in vin decoders because they provide only the information that has been officially reported, however nowadays most of the damage, repair information, accidents etc are being reported, so this is not a problem anymore.

Post your Comments, Questions or Suggestions

*     *     (* = Required field)

    (Your email address will not be published)
(you may use HTML tags for style)

YES... spelling, punctuation, grammar and proper use of UPPER/lower case are important! Comments of a political nature are discouraged. Please limit your remarks to 3-4 paragraphs. If you want to see your comment posted, pay attention to these items.

All comments are reviewed, and may be edited or removed at the discretion of the moderator.

NOTE: Please, post comments on this article ONLY.
If you want to ask a question click here.

Free Tech Support -- Ask Bob Rankin
Subscribe to AskBobRankin Updates: Free Newsletter

Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved
About Us     Privacy Policy     RSS/XML

Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are Carfax and Other Vehicle Reports Trustworthy? (Posted: 9 Feb 2021)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved