Just How Accurate Are CARFAX Vehicle History Reports And The Data They Contain?

CARFAX can be a good source of information but can leave out a lot of critical information

Just How Accurate Are CARFAX Vehicle History Reports And The Data They Contain?
Image: NCCC
October 30, 2018

If you've ever purchased or looked into purchasing a used car, chances are you've either seen or at least heard of CARFAX, a service that provides historical information on used vehicles. Your dealer may even be advertising that a particular vehicle has a clean CARFAX report. But just how reliable is the information that CARFAX reports provide?

information in CARFAX vehicle history reports

If a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is plugged into the CARFAX database, the report will display information about vehicle ownership, accident history, mileage discrepancies, lemon status, flood damage, fleet use, and a number of other issues related to the vehicle in question. You can see whether any potential odometer rollbacks have been detected, whether there were any failed emission tests, and even some service records. But the information you are really interested in is the information that is not in CARFAX vehicle history reports.

where does CARFAX get the info for vehicle history reports?

You may be wondering how CARFAX gets its information. After all, it maintains a system of more than 6 billion vehicle records and it seems to have a lot of information about each vehicle. CARFAX gets information from various motor vehicle bureaus across the U.S. and Canada, insurance companies, auto auctions, repair and service facilities, rental companies, state inspection stations, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and vehicle manufacturers. But that's not every single source of information. Those sources are the big ones.

the CARFAX vehicle history report is only as good as the information that gets put into it

Despite the vast number of resources available, CARFAX vehicle history reports should not be considered completely reliable. In fact, we have found major problems with some CARFAX vehicle history reports. Since CARFAX relies on information that is reported to the company, anything that doesn't get reported either to the company or to any of its data sources won't show up in the report. We ordered a report on a vehicle that had extensive collision work five times but was listed only as having a minor collision. In another case, four other vehicles were bought back by the manufacturers as 'lemons' under the North Carolina Lemon Law. These vehicles showed clean CARFAX reports and all showed up on local dealer lots as 'local trades.'

CARFAX is a good starting place but shouldn't be your only source of info

While CARFAX is a great place to start researching a vehicle's history, CARFAX vehicle history reports won't show you a history that was never reported. So a clean CARFAX report shouldn't be considered a good vehicle. On the other hand, a vehicle with a CARFAX history report that shows major collision damage shouldn't necessarily be considered a bad car. To get a good idea of a vehicle's condition, take it to a trusted reputable mechanic who can give the car a thorough check from top to bottom. It'll cost a little more than a CARFAX report, but you're concern should really be the condition of the car now, not necessarily only what it's been through. Another place you can check is the local dealer for the car you're looking at buying. The dealer can give you a history of all warranty and other repairs that may have been done. You can even find hidden accident or flood damage yourself if you know where to look.