CarFax compiles records from a wide range of sources that track Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN), odometer readings, and accidents among other statistics. That means you'll have access to some title transfers, odometer readings, reported accidents, and manufacturer recalls concerning the vehicle in question.
Do You Need More Information?
You should have any used vehicle inspected and driven by a trusted mechanic before you buy. It's also a good idea to have the seller provide you with a written statement outlining the condition of the car and detailing any damages it may have.
A CarFax report is only as good as its sources, and therein lies the problem. If a vehicle was in an accident that wasn't reported to police, it won't show up. Furthermore, if it was reported and the police department doesn’t provide reports to Carfax, you won't get the accident information. If the vehicle was in an accident or flood and was repaired by a mechanic or body shop that doesn't report to CarFax, you won't learn that information. In addition, insurance companies do not provide reports to Carfax. These are only a few examples, so if you have a question about your vehicle's condition, ask.
Although CarFax may not cover every angle of a vehicle history, it is a valuable tool when buying a used car. Here are some key benefits you'll find on a CarFax report:
- The Safety and Reliability section combines information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Highway Loss Data Institute, and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and outlines the average cost for repairs of the vehicle make and model. The reliability section lists potentially expensive issues the model may be prone to as well as the average cost of ownership and the average risk of injuries and accidents.
- CarFax lists the type of owner the vehicle has had. This can alert you to a former leased or rental vehicle and, combined with the odometer reading, can give you an idea of the type of use the vehicle has seen. A low odometer reading can tell you to be on the alert for low mileage driving issues.
- The Owned in the Following States section can be a red flag. If the vehicle has been relocated several times in a short period of time, it may have been salvaged in one state, repaired in another, and sold in a third to avoid detection.
- The Frame Damage Check means the vehicle was in a wreck so you should have the frame checked by your own mechanic for unrepaired damage.
- If the Airbag Deployment Check is positive, it means the car has been in a wreck where the airbag deployed. Make sure the airbag was replaced.
What Can You do if You have an Issue?
CarFax guarantees a clean title on its report, but make sure you read the fine print. Register the car with CarFax if you buy it and be aware the guarantee is very specific.
If you suspect you've purchased a car that's been damaged without disclosure, it's important to get legal representation. Consumer laws are made to protect unsuspecting car buyers from fraud, and you may have a valid case.