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Carfax: A Good Tool, But Not A Guarantee

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for young couple researching.jpgCarfax has done a great job of marketing itself to car dealers and consumers. And, Carfax can be a helpful tool in researching the history of a used car. But, many consumers believe that a clean report means that a car has a trouble-free history. That is not necessarily the case, and relying on a Carfax report can be a big mistake.

Carfax and Autocheck (a competing company) collect information from various sources and assemble them in reports that purport to give the history of the car. These reports, however, are not necessarily complete. They include only the information that is reported to them. There are many problems that are not reported and will not show up in the Carfax report.

For example, many consumers assume that if a Carfax does not show an accident, then the car is collision-free. However, many accidents are not reported to anyone. And, although Carfax and Autocheck have many sources that report information, some accidents are reported to repair shops, companies, or government entities that do not provide information to Carfax or Autocheck. So, many accidents will not show up on a Carfax or Autocheck report.

Unfortunately, many car dealerships will take advantage of a consumer's belief that a clean Carfax report means an accident-free car. Many of our clients who bought previously wrecked cars have told us that, when they asked if a car had been in an accident, a dealer responded by saying: "No - it has a clean Carfax." Since automotive professionals can usually tell if there has been prior damage, this is a type of auto dealer fraud.

Still, Carfax does contain helpful information. For example, many dealerships and repair shops report service histories. So, a report showing frequent servicing is an indication that a car was taken care of. The lack of information does not mean the car was never serviced, though. It could mean that it was serviced regularly at a shop that doesn't report to Carfax.

Carfax can also help consumers avoid avoid potential problems such as former rental cars or vehicles with a questionable history.

We recommend checking Carfax or Autocheck before buying a used car, but we also recommend asking for service records and, most importantly, getting an independent inspection. Carfax is a helpful tool in buying a car, but consumers should be mindful of its limitations.

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