How Accurate Are CARFAX Vehicle History Reports and the Various Types of Data They Contain?
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How Accurate Are CARFAX Vehicle History Reports and the Various Types of Data They Contain?

CARFAX vehicle history reports can be a good source of historical information, but they can also leave out a lot of critical information

August 2, 2021

If you've ever looked into purchasing a used car, the odds are really good that you've at least heard of CARFAX, if not purchased a CARFAX report. CARFAX is a service that provides historical information on vehicles. Your dealer might be advertising that a vehicle has a clean CARFAX report, which might calm your nerves about the car. But 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 the available information about vehicle ownership, accident history, mileage discrepancies, lemon status, flood damage, fleet use, and other things. You can see whether any potential odometer rollbacks have been detected, whether there were any failed emission tests, and possibly some maintenance or service records. But the information you should really want 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 the information you see in the report. After all, the company 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 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. There's just no way that one of these reports can be all-inclusive. 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 we knew had extensive collision work performed on it five times. The report showed only one minor collision. In another case, we purchased reports for four other vehicles we knew were repurchased in North Carolina by the vehicle manufacturers as 'lemons' under the North Carolina Lemon Law. These vehicles showed clean CARFAX reports. We were able to find one vehicle on a local dealer lot as a 'local trade.'

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 your 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.