Automotive Finances & Money

You can’t trust that Carfax report!

You see Carfax mentioned everywhere. Everyone tells you to use them when shopping for a used car, right? They’re a household name for vehicle history reports, but I have a secret to share.

You know that we just sold our Chevy Malibu a couple weeks ago. Well, back on tax day (April 15) of 2005, we were in Pennsylvania for a wedding. While making a left turn across 2 lanes of traffic (per the bride’s father’s directions), an SUV jumped out of the right lane into the left (which was otherwise clear of traffic) and collided with us. Both vehicles had about $6,000 worth of damage. Ours was confined to the front-left of the vehicle, but there was a small bit of frame repair done.

I posted the car through and chose the top option which gave me a “free” Carfax report that I could show to the public. I plugged in the VIN number and out popped the report. I scanned down, knowing it should show something bad. I got down to the damage report section, and here’s what it showed:

Carfax Error

Yep, that’s right, No Issues Reported. No “Frame Damage” and no “Accident” was reported. Why? I don’t know. I had the damage repaired by Allstate, and it was significant enough to warrant a report to Carfax, but apparently someone dropped the ball big time. Carfax does note under the “Other Information” heading that “Not all accidents or other issues are reported to CARFAX”, which is their way of saying “Don’t blame us!”.

When I took the car in to various dealers, as well as Carmax, for a trade estimate, they immediately noticed the weld spots, and knew there had been an accident. Only a trained eye would have found them, but they knew what to look for and found it.

Another example of an incorrect Carfax report went the opposite way for me. I had a side-swipe accident in my Acura TL-S years ago. When I took it in to Honda to trade for a new Ridgeline, they informed me the Carfax report stated there was frame damage. I went home and looked at the itemized repair sheet and nothing related to frame repair was listed. However, I still negotiated a trade at $3500 above the diminished value of my Acura for the Ridgeline (at almost invoice price). If I wasn’t dealing with a “luxury vehicle” and specifically with Honda (who makes Acura), then I would have gotten the raw end of the deal.

So the lesson here is this: Always take the used car into a trusted mechanic for inspection before sealing the deal. Oh, and be sure to ask whether the car has been in any accidents. Don’t just trust the Carfax report alone.

So what’s your experience with Carfax? Have you been lied to, or felt cheated after buying a used car that turned out to be a lemon?

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Super Saver for providing this link to a Consumer Affairs report on Carfax unreliability.


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  • Thanks for the article. Good information!

    I found your site after doing some research on a Toyota Camry. Carfax offers a “free vin report” when in fact all they REALLY offer is for you to plug in the VIN and get an offer for varying levels of reports.

    So I went back to Google and searched for “carfax free report lie” and your site was on the first page.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly: take it to a mechanic!!!

    Thanks again for the great information.

  • I’m in the market to buy a used car and I signed up for Carfax. Just to check it out, I entered the VIN of my previous car — a car I had bought new and owned for 10+ years until it was stolen. (Which is why I’m looking to buy a car.)

    Of course I know every incident about my previous car. I was disappointed to see how little information Carfax reported. There were only 10 entries in the entire report. Four of them were about my car passing smog checks. One was about the car getting serviced.

    Another entry said, “Title issued or updated.” I know the title wasn’t “issued” at that specific date. So the “update” could’ve been that I got a new driver license and changed my address to a PO Box. So an entry like “title issued or updated” can mean something big or, like in this case, nothing at all.

    Carfax had nothing about the time my car was rear ended even though I reported it to the DMV. Nothing about the time my parked car was hit and run and I filed a police report and reported it to my insurance company.

    Anyway my car was stolen and never recovered. I was paid by my insurance company. But this is how it appears in the Carfax report: Three months after the date of the theft, was the entry, “Title or registration issued to insurance company.”

    The last entry was dated the same day and said, “Title issued or updated. Dealer took title of this vehicle while it was in inventory.” In a city that’s seven hours’ drive away from where my car was stolen.

    I wonder if the dealer or next car owner can interpret those last two entries for what they really mean.

  • Well I don’t know about your experience, but I have one for you. I bought my 2001 integra gs from a honda dealer and after a year when I was washing the car I noticed the front bumper paint was alittle off the bumper paint was brighter than the rest of the car and the pinstrip on the side didn’t line up so I went to carfax and sure enough it said it was in 2 accidents the car rear ended somebody and it too was rear ended. So I checked the rear bumper and sure enough there was a nice size gap that I seemed to over look then I popped the trunk and notcied 3 clips missing, then I noticed the front passenger side underneath the dash it was missing bolts, so now when I go to trade or sell I am going to get screwed so I feel if I would have got a carfax report I would avoid this situation I’m in. So you and everyone else can say don’t trust it don’t use it, well I’m telling you not every single thing on there is wrong. I’m a good example. And if anyone believes carfax is a rip off then you won’t mind buying my car for $7500 because after all right carfax can’t be trusted so there is nothing wrong with my car.

  • Yep – I ran a Carfax check on my ex-girlfriend’s Altima before we sold it- it DEFINITELY had frame damage from a side impact from a bus full of prisoners. $7,500 repair. Carfax gave us a clean bill.

  • For all you people that say Carfax is not good it is because you don’t understand that it takes a while before all the information on the car becomes discovered.

    Carfax even tells you that!!!! you have to wait about a month or 2 before you can get enough information on the car you are trying to buy or sell you will ALWAYS HAVE A FREE CARFAX REPORT when you just turned it in it is only a matter of time before it catches up to you.

    • @Brent, the accidents I spoke of occurred YEARS before I ran the Carfax reports. How do you explain that? If a car was just in an accident, fixed up and now sitting on a dealer’s lot, I can’t expect the dealer to wait years before I’m comfortable to buy the car. Carfax is a sham because they promise you full disclosure when they just can’t produce it.

  • just wondering………………..IS there any way to get a REAL DMV report(s), or insurance report(s) on a vehicle? lemme know please

  • I was also a victim of this – on the buying end! My car had been in not one, but TWO accidents! I bought it used with less than 5k miles on it and looked at a carfax and no information revealed it had been in an accident – let alone two.

    Use AutoCheck instead, they don’t miss it and it’s what most car dealers look at.

  • Just traded my 05 BMW Z4 for another one. I traded it at the dealership where they completed the repairs as I was hit by a speeding SUV, which pushed in the front wheel, crunched the hood, damaged the door, etc. By sheer chance I saw the person who purchased and picked up my car. Then I went on CARFAX and ordered copies for every vehicle I have ever owned. Where the 05 BMW Z4 was concerned, showed change of title, but no collision. This is the second incident with BMW dealerships when they sell you wrecked vehicles!!!!

    Too bad CARFAX isn’t forced to check the police records and report collisions that way because the dealerships sure know how to get around it.

  • CARFAX makes you think that they are your answer to making sure you get a car that has not had major problems. BEWARE, CARFAX is only accurate on about 50% of vehicles it lists and that is why they absolve themselves of any liability or blame for missing or inaccurate information. DO NOT TRUST CARFAX ALONE!

  • To avoid the risk of second-hand car purchase
    For consumers who buy used cars, except when used with the new vehicle fuel consumption compared to prone to failure and higher than the new car like the issues, but also to pay attention to the purchase of second-hand car to avoid some of the big risk. Here are some common pitfalls of used car sales:

    Car accident repair: the information is not public, the consumer is still difficult to find the vehicle maintenance records and accident files. Buy car accident will greatly increase the possibility of vehicle failure.

  • This just happened to me today. I bought a used Honda back in 2007. I checked the carfax then and it came up clear. Just today, I went to go trade it in for a new car and when the dealer pulled the carfax on my car, there was an accident reported. Turns out, there was an accident back in 2005 and it wasn’t reported to carfax until 2008!

  • Ellen (Comment from Oct 4, 2008) – Thanks, your info was extremely helpful.

    Amy – I have absolutely no idea what you’re trying to say in your comment.

    As for CarFax AND AutoCheck – I say use them as a GENERAL guideline, and don’t rely on them solely. Like others have said no one is obligated to inform CarFax and if they’re not using insurance info then really it’s worthless. On that note, although I haven’t had car buying experience having to deal with a CarFax report being incorrect, in my ongoing search for a new vehicle I clearly saw just how unreliable those things can be. I found a car that advertised a free AutoCheck report I believe, it WASN’T a CarFax, and it said that it was free of and guaranteed against damage, etc. The photo of the car in the ad showed it was totally busted up in front! Likewise, I’ve seen a CarFax report on a car that claimed to have OVER 600,000 MILES on it! But here is the kicker – according to the CarFax the car had gone from like 75,000 or something, some typical number, to 600,000+ in like a month under the last owner listed. If that person could in theory have driven non-stop day and night every minute that would still have been impossible.

    Don’t trust them. Also, be careful if you are going to rely on them at all. I am interested in buying a car and on the window they have stats and I’m almost 100% positive they listed no damage/accidents. When I got home (there’s a small dent in the side of the car) I checked their online ad for the car and the CarFax link for the full report – accident reported.

    Be careful and use common sense.

  • I just bought a 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix from a dealership. They provided a clean carfax. 3 months later, my back door won’t open without the front door being open because it is jamming against the front door. I took it to a body shop for repairs only to find out that the skin on the back door had been replaced. When I approached the dealership about it, they “remembered” that it had been backed into on their lot and had been repaired. It apparently has slipped adjustment. I believe they have violated the Deceptive Trade Practices Act by not telling me of the previous damage and giving me a Carfax with no damages being reported. I thought I was doing the right thing by purchasing a Certified Pre-Owned car from a GM dealership and checking the Carfax. I think I will stick to new cars from now on. You can’t trust anyone to be truthful.

  • I totally agree, I drove 6 hrs to buy a Honda odyssey that had a clean car fax and Auto checker, but I ( who am not trained) noticed that the Vin number sticker was missing from the left front panel. You could even see the weld marks and the poor pain job where they painted the rubber a bit. Thank God my wife printed out some online check list that mentioned to look for the Vin Stickers or I may have bought it.

    My Theory is this, If the vehicle is leased, I think the dealers technically own it and make all decisions on repair. To Protect their interest they do not make insurance claims, if they can avoid it, they repair the vehicle in house for low cost then off load the vehicle to someone who sells a lot of vehicles like this ( like Texas Auto Direct). its just my theory.

  • I traded my Montecarlo SS in a few months ago. Saw it online, looked at the carfax and many of the repairs I had done such as intake manifold gasket, sensors, spedometer, steering bushings, all not displayed on Carfax report. But if you went to the dealer they could see them all.

  • So, here’s my story.

    Back it 2006 I was involved in the “accident” – the bike fell in front of my car. Cops came did a report, there was no damage on the car and it shouldn’t be, because he fell in front of my car, not on my car on hit my car, and I didn’t run him over, and I wasn’t even moving, I was completely stopped on the red light. No law suits, no problems with insurance, no one payed anything. Biker is alive and happy.

    Now I’m trying to trade in my car. The dealer ran carfax and dropped the price by $4,000 because “my car was involved in accident”. I was trying to explain, what kind of accident – no luck. Stuck with my car because I refuse to sell it for 4K less.

  • Hi,
    Let me give my experience with CARFAX.
    Most of you talking about one or two experiences but I will talking about 500 experiences. Until know I got more than 500 CARFAX reports. CARFAX is depending on 34000 sources, so maybe your car does not pass through these sources. Also, if the reports does not show you an accident then this does not mean there is no accidents. The accident could be happened but may be not reported to the company some how. But if there is an accident, then that means the accident was happened. Moreover, one of great feature in CARFAX is that, CARFAX depending on the information that come from the dealers. I miss this feature in AutoCheck. I found more than car with no accidents reported but th dealer gives information that there is front or rear accident impact.

    In accident point of view, I am not trusted CARFAX 100% but I trusted it for other information such as Odemeter, Services, Type of using.
    CARFAX for me is just a tool for filtration if I have more than one choice.
    All companies who are making history reports advise the buyer to do not depending on the report only. The buyer should check the car by a good mechanic.

    If you need to buy a used car, you should depend on all of these:
    CARFAX + Mechanic Checking + Dealer History Report