By on October 5, 2010

There was a time when nearly every customer asked, “Does it come with a clean Carfax history?” It came to a point where I would just routinely leave them on the driver’s seat so that the questioner could peruse what they thought was a complete ownership history. Then certain things happened in the marketplace.

Dealers began targeting vehicles that ‘did’ have frame damage, but were not mentioned on Carfax. Not every insurance company or state police agency agency had (or has) a relationship with Carfax… and some of the nastiest of damage came with the most expensive of vehicles. Carfax got blamed, threatened, sued, and dragged through the sensationalistic dreck we now find on network news. The price of Carfax subscriptions went up while this was happening, and as a result dealers and individuals began to seek alternatives. Autocheck became a de facto standard at the auto auctions, and now it is the leading competitor to Carfax. But is it better?

After going through thousands of different Carfax and Autocheck histories, I can vouch for the following… but first the disclaimer…

1) The best money any car buyer will ever spend is having their vehicle independently inspected.

Neither of the two central databases can tell you how a car was driven, whether the repairs were substandard, or if there are any major cost issues on the horizon.

The bang for the buck you get from having the vehicle looked at by an established independent garage is by far the best investment you can make. I feel so strongly about this that I wish both firms would begin their history reports for consumers with the following…

“WE ENCOURAGE AND RECOMMEND THAT YOU HAVE YOUR VEHICLE INSPECTED BY A PROFESSIONAL AUTO REPAIR FACILITY BEFORE BUYING IT.”

Disclaimer made. Now back to the comparo…

2) Carfax is far better when it comes to verifying mileage and whether a vehicle has been maintained by a fleet company or a dealership.

Registering vehicles does not require a mileage disclosure. You pay the tax, get back a sticker or a license plate, and that’s it. If you have avoided accidents, and don’t need to have emissions done, chances are your car will have no mileage history with any government agency. In my work I find that an awful lot of vehicles fall into this category. Autocheck and Carfax are both fairly comprehensive when it comes to government databases. But that has little bearing in many states.

However if the owner went to the dealership for maintenance, or an auto repair chain, the Carfax report will usually have those services recorded along with the mileage and a phone number to contact to verify the repairs. For those of you looking at a vehicle with some well known and expensive weaknesses (transmissions on certain minivans for instance), the information you get on a Carfax history could be worth thousands more than the Autocheck report.

3) Carfax and Autocheck do a fairly decent job when it comes to accident histories.

In the last couple of years I have seen a vast improvement in the recording of accident histories for both firms. In fact, it’s rare that I find any real differences between the two and when I do it’s only for ‘slight’ or ‘minor’ accidents.

People often look at these histories as a shangri-la when it comes to recording accidents. The histories do help… but it’s not the entire picture. A minor accident with some vehicles can result in major alignment and drivability issues. While moderate accidents may only require the replacement of a few body panels. Also, if an accident did not involve the police or an insurance claim, you won’t find it recorded. Sorry.

The only accidents I ever take seriously are the severe ones and even then, I look more at the quality of the repair than the type of accident. Related to this, an older car that was in a moderate or even minor accident may have been given a salvage title due to the fact that the value of the vehicle was so small. Is it an unsafe vehicle? Maybe. For these types of vehicles you definitely want to consider having it inspected by two repair shops.

If accident history is your big concern I would favor Autocheck. Autocheck offers a more comprehensive listing of vehicles with frame damage due to their relationship with dealer-only auto auctions. Levels of frame damage can also vary from an insignificant ding on one panel to two cars that have literally been Frankensteined together. If you consider any vehicle with an accident history make sure it’s inspected.

4) Carfax and Autocheck both do a very good job with emission histories. But emissions mean absolutely nothing unless they are recent.

I had a Camry for 12 years and 239k miles before selling it. The car ran like a top and had been an absolute ‘dealer queen’ since day one. It also flunked emissions at least a dozen times. Some cars are just privy towards emission issues… and in my experiences older Toyotas and Volvos often need a carbon remover such as ‘Guaranteed to Pass’ every few years.

Should you trust the mileage recordings from emission centers? On Carfax and Autocheck, the short answer is no. I see plenty of errant fingers on these databases that make a 22,000 mile vehicle a 222,000 mile vehicle. The fact that such a jump happened within a six month period should turn the lights on for certain enlightened people. But that doesn’t always happen. For dealers and individuals trying to sell their cars, errant emission readings can be a grade A headache.

For those of you who prefer to buy their vehicles from owners, please note, individuals ARE allowed to sell vehicles with non-current emissions in certain states. If you don’t verify the emissions are current, you may be looking at some serious repair costs in the near future. Carfax and Autocheck both do a good job with verifying this. But you can also find emissions information for free online as well.

Carfax and Autocheck are tied when it comes to the emission histories.

5) Carfax is usually better in showing how many owners a vehicle had.

There are certain vehicles that are quickly discounted at the auctions. Cars that came from title pawns and buy here pay here dealerships. Cars with cheap parts and cheap tires. Repos that have been trashed inside and out…. and most especially, vehicles that were owned by the owner for less than one year.

Chances are that if the owner unloaded the vehicle in such a short period of time, there is a reason why that took place. Mechanical issues and failed emissions tend to be the top two reasons. A reliable and fairly recent car simply is not unloaded unless the owner was dissatisfied with the vehicle in some way.

Carfax does a better job at distinguishing whether a vehicle has stayed with the owner in cases when they have moved to various states. You will see a notation within both Carfax and Autocheck for this. But Carfax usually tends to do a better job at showing whether the change in scenery also came with a change of ownership.

Does this really matter? I think it does. A car with only one or two owners will usually be in far better shape with one that had five to seven owners. Maintenance is usually better for cars that were owned by a ‘keeper’ and I frequently see higher quality parts used on these vehicles as well.

Overall I prefer Carfax over Autocheck. But I don’t believe either one is really a necessity when it comes to buying a used car. A long test drive with someone who knows cars and an independent inspection with an established repair shop, can tell you far more than the incomplete history you see on a piece of paper.

For certain types of auto purchases, a Carfax history is valuable. Finding a ‘dealer queen’. A car that perhaps may have a strike against it that is superficial. The Carfax report can help you decipher that vehicle.

But that’s not the total reality. I have also seen one owner vehicles with no accident histories that were absolute deathtraps due to rust, substandard repairs, and undercarriage damage. If you do decide to use these reports, get a professional. As Tom Cruise once said about Porsches, “There is no substitute.”

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42 Comments on “Hammer Time: Carfax vs. Autocheck...”


  • avatar
    saponetta

    FYI  your dealership/service facility must register with carfax if they want their service work at their facility to report to carfax. Car fax sends a memo a few times a year encouraging sign up.

    • 0 avatar
      zryk

      After reading a lot of Autocheck Vs. CarFax articles, I decided to go with Autocheck. Just out of curiosity, I found free CarFax reports on the web and searched the same VINs in Autocheck. From what I have seen so far is that Autocheck reports include only a fraction of CarFax reports. For example, while Autocheck reports include only title renewal entries, CarFax reports show every oil change, wheel alignment, even car washings and every little thing you can think of. It gives me a way better idea about how the previous owner of a car took care of the car. I think like I am fooled and wasted $50. Beware and stick with CarFax.
      Zafer

      • 0 avatar
        hummerim

        $45 for 5 reports for CarFax in a 60-day period or $5 for unlimited reports for 30 days – either one is too expensive. I paid $2 for a government VIN check site but it does not have accident information. Given I needed to shop around for a car and 5 is definitely not enough, I went for AutoCheck.

        Turns out the details on AutoCheck is very similar to recent CarFax outputs. I noticed though that every car is different, and AutoCheck has a police Case Number associated with an accident, while CarFax does not. But the important thing is that they both show relevant information for me as a potential car buyer.

        If CarFax will ease the 5-report limit I may consider them in the future. Best is if both of them allow a 60-day limit.

      • 0 avatar
        SteveM

        From Steve Lang’s review: “The best money any car buyer will ever spend is having their vehicle independently inspected.”

        Amen.

        I’ve been in the auto business for nearly 30 years, and have been to more dealer auctions than I could count. There’s a reason the largest auction enterprises prefer Autocheck: Carfax publishes too much misleading and downright erroneous information. Minor incidents (i.e. parking lot dings, dongs, and scrapes) frequently appear as “accidents” and common clerical mistakes are often magnified as red flags, unnecessarily.

        Carfax, of course, isn’t just making stuff up. They’re a reporting service. Unfortunately, they report without perspective, and more importantly, without verification.

        How does this happen? Collision shops and vehicle service facilities are hectic workplaces. Invoices, work orders, vehicle identification numbers (VIN) can easily be unintentionally conflated. What’s more, when collision shop appraisers and insurance company adjustors negotiate the cost of repairs, a lot of variables are put on the table. Some of the claims are exaggerated or later negated, but may linger on the report. Of course, there’s the distinct possibility that insurance company agents will confuse claim reports as well, and report a wholly inaccurate representation of the actual claim.

        Also, police reports are often generated by an irate party in a very minor traffic incident. All parties in the altercation are likely to have their vehicles forever tainted with an accident entry on Carfax.

        In short, there’s a lot that can go wrong along the trail to a Carfax entry.

        The other side of the coin are vehicles that are truly dogs, but go through their lifespan unreported. At the auctions, dealers can enjoy a good belly laugh beholding a beast with a clean Carfax.

        Carfax reports are not worthless, but their standing as the almighty arbiters of vehicle integrity has grown beyond reason and good sense. Car resale values now largely depend on a report that may or may not be particularly reliable. Vehicles, in their own way, and not unlike people, have reputations. Many good reputations have been ruined by a service that has grown into the de facto McCarthyism of the automobile business. (Guilty, until proven innocent).

        I’ve been on both sides of a shoddy Carfax report, and it’s harmful both as buyer and seller. Unfortunately, it’s happening with alarming frequency. As a buyer, I’ve had to pass on perfectly sound cars, because I’m reluctant to saddle my customer (or myself, if the vehicle is for inventory) with capriciously undermined resale value. As a seller, I’ve had to suffer losses due to mysterious Carfax entries that diminish the value of a perfectly sound vehicle.

        Carfax has done a terrific job of marketing its own importance and value. Along the way, they’ve become a bloated and irresponsible monster. I can’t address Autocheck’s methodology, or even their accuracy, but in my experience, I haven’t seen Autocheck recording entries with the reckless abandon of Carfax.

        Again, I’ll echo Steve Lang’s excellent advice: “WE ENCOURAGE AND RECOMMEND THAT YOU HAVE YOUR VEHICLE INSPECTED BY A PROFESSIONAL AUTO REPAIR FACILITY BEFORE BUYING IT.”

        • 0 avatar
          Paulk14

          “Unfortunately, they report without perspective, and more importantly, without verification. ”

          How very true.

          10 days ago, I went to purchase a new car and trade in my 2002 BMW 330, which KBB lists around $4K — because it needs some work (tyres, windscreen repairs etc.) I thought $3.5K was a fair value.

          Imagine my surprise when the dealer offered $2K…..wholly based on a Carfax report which listed my car as being in an accident in 2008. The dealer also acknowledged that he would have met my $3.5K price had the Carfax report been clean.

          In January 2008, in heavy traffic on the freeway during torrential rain and commute traffic, traveling about 2-4 mph, a box truck pulled across from the lane beside me and rubbed their tyre against my front right side. Initially I was upset that the truck never stopped, so called the police to report an incident. However, after discussing it with the officer, I decided against following up on filing the report.

          There was no formal police report, no insurance claim, no work done on my car……yet…..Carfax have reported it as if I had a major impact collision…..which is absolutely irresponsible and reckless on their behalf, and pretty much slandering my reputation.

          What is really objectionable is their “Correction Process” — they refuse to connect me with a live person to discuss this. Of course, that is the usual shyster behaviour, to hide behind faceless email addresses.

          On top of that, it took 6 days to get an initial reply, and now we are at the stage where Carfax’s source does not have records to hand from 2008, so they have to go to their archive and this requires a different “process”.

          And (unsurprisingly) Carfax refuse to disclose who their source is — give that both my DL record and the Car History are both clean with the DMV, then the legality of any information Carfax actually is very curious.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    Thanks Steve.  This is why TTAC is great.

    • 0 avatar
      ott

      Agreed. In Canada, the war is between Carfax and CarProof. Carproof is by far the better system, as they have much more access to insurance databases, repair shop estimate computer software, lien history, police and ministry of Transportation data, and more.

      That’s why the cheapest CarProof report you can get is $30. For one report. For $30 I could get 5 Carfax reports, but unfortunately you get what you pay for. I have multiple examples of accident history that clearly shows up on CarProof reports that is not shown on Carfax reports on the same vehicles. It may cost our dealership more to provide a CarProof report to a customer, but you can be pretty sure that the report is accurate. (well, more accurate than Carfax, anyway…)

  • avatar
    NotFast

    Thanks a ton.  I’ve inferred a few of these things myself, but this article helps.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Thank you for telling us the “Truth About Car History Reports.”  I’m glad I know an independent mechanic and I guess I’m going to shrink my “search area” so I can bring him along when I think I’ve found the right car.  It doesn’t hurt anything that he’s an old friend of my girlfriends family and has done all the work to my future father-in-laws 1972 Chevy 1/2 ton since he purchased it in the late 70s.  Got to have mechanics you can trust who don’t work for the stealership.

  • avatar
    obbop

    The word was that the driver had died though we could not easily verify that and had no compelling reason to do so.
    The latest edition to the foreign-car-only wrecking yard was a Subaru.
    Twas way back in 1993 or so in the cultural backwater of Omaha, Nebraska where so many of the residents were so concerned of what outsiders thought about them and their city… actually believing that outsiders, unless they had some sort of tie or bond to that place, ever gave Omaha a moment’s thought.
    Peering down at the wrecked vehicle our trained peering eyeballs noted what parts appeared to be usable/salable and what was beyond hope.
    Impacted on the side, the classic “t-bone style” wreck, we also could ascertain where the prior wreck had been repaired and been done so in a slip-shod manner that surely assisted in any injuries received by the occupant(s) in the latest impact.
    A line of weld in the middle of the car showed where two wrecked cars had been used to create a whole “new” car.
    Grab a car with a front impact and another with a rear impact, cut off the wrecked portion, do your best to make the cuts even and so the “new” car is the proper length, then tie it all together.
    It was amazing how cleanly the car “snapped” at the point where the front and rear were co-joined. We looked for any additional bracing where additional metal “beams” were welded in for bracing/reinforcement but nothing other than original car was visible.
    Eeeeeek!!!!!!!!!!!
     
    I knew a hombre who did similar repairs but stuck to Toyota pick-ups. Grab one hit in front, another hit in the rear, grab the “chop saw” slice and insert slot A into slot B. However, he arc welded in substantial hunks of metal onto the frame rails, ensuring ample rigidity and strength and the end result was a truck beefier than a factory original.
    That Subaru was a death trap that may have eventually come apart at the seams on its own. We considered that possibility but the paint left behind by the vehicle that had impacted with it along with other evidence of a car-on-car impact gave evidence the car had not died on its own…. as could have happened over time as body flexing and rust took its toll.
     

    • 0 avatar
      godflesh

      I used to buy clips and let me tell you that was a different breed of shopping. One problem with prior salvage cars is you do not know from the title if it is a clip, single car rebuild, or a theft recovery. Treat them all the same and stay away! (Unless you want a cheap ride.)

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I have not tried Auto Check, but I can tell you that Carfax has saved me a few trips to go look at a car.  Like when the report for a 90s Town Car located an hour away showed a recent accident during the time of the current owner although the owner said that there had been no accidents. 

    One where I should have paid attention was when the 01 Town & Country was shown to have spent its first 5 years in Michigan (Land O Road Salt).  I am here to tell you that Gen4 Chrysler minivans are susceptible to rust in lots of places when they have driven a lot of miles in such an environment.  The carfax also showed the car shuttled from dealer to dealer to dealer to dealer.  When a Chrysler dealer takes a loaded silver T&C Limited in on trade and can’t or won’t sell it, I consider this a red flag.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Does anyone think you could find this type of a review anywhere else on the Internet? Not likely. Excellent journalism.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Great article — thanks!

    Neither carfax nor autocheck will tell me what car to buy, but they will tell me what car NOT to buy. Accidents — next. Rust belt car — next. One owner western states car — maybe. A clean carfax or autocheck is just the first and lowest cost step prior to a detailed pre-purchase inspection by a qualified independent mechanic who specializes in the make I’m considering. All the service records — great! I also pay for a new emmissions test before buying the car too — best $30 spent.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    NN

    I can tell you from personal experience that the CARFAX buyback guarantee is advertised in a misleading fashion.  They will only honor the guarantee if you can prove that a “branded title” exists for the car…meaning that a title showing unknown mileage, salvage, etc. exists on file with a state DMV and it doesn’t show on Carfax.  Nothing else is covered.
    I bought a 2002 Mazda Millenia on eBay in early 2009, about 65k miles.  Prior to bidding, I ran a Carfax, which did show an accident but no weird mileage issues or anything else.  After having numerous problems with the car I decided to go get an appraisal on it at a dealer this past August.  They ran a new CARFAX that showed over 50k additional miles on the car, recorded at servicings that took place between 2006 and 2009 at a particular service center–none of these items reported on the CARFAX I had ran in 2009.
    I got a hold of the service station, indeed, the mileage reported was true and they had upgraded to a new data management system this summer that apparently reports to CARFAX.  They previously did not report anything to Carfax.
    Long story short, I filed a claim with Carfax, they asked me to provide the branded title, I called the state DMV involved but no such title exists.  My only recourse now is to take the seller to court.
    Here’s the funny thing…Autocheck still doesn’t show those extra servicings.  So according to the current Autocheck, the car had 65k miles as of early 2009.  According to CARFAX, it had 113,000.  Buyer Beware.
     
     

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Excellent item. Thanks.

    I am called upon to assist friends and relatives purchase a used car, three in a little over a year. It’s a daunting responsibility. If something goes wrong you know you’re going to be off the Christmas card list – forever. And the pay is lousy. So far I have made zero, though one person did take me out for a nice lunch. I’m retired. I do it because I get a chance to exercise my mind, put my bullshit shields up and I enjoy the chase

    Additional to the mechanical inspection, I have an established body shop look at a potential purchase. A car looks way different on a hoist. The body shop technician looks underneath for frame straightener clamp marks and structural damage. He also checks fender, door and trunk lid fasteners for signs they have moved from their original factory positions, examines door, hood and trunk alignments, checks the trunk floor and spare tire well for welding marks and body filler, and looks for paint over-spray, rust, flood and hail damage, and assesses the extent and quality of any found body work.

  • avatar
    ExPatBrit

    I have bought and sold a few cars in the last few years.
    I always sell with a recent emission test + new tabs. I advertise it as such.
    Print the carfax and have a copy on hand along with the title.
    I do worry where this is going though, is someone not going to buy my car because I did the oil change late, or I didn’t do it at the dealer?
    When buying it’s amazing on how many cars the CEL doesn’t work. Always arm yourself with a scanner. The average Joe seems to think every emission problem is minor.
    Never buy from someone who can’t show you the title or a copy of it. Salvaged cars get bounced from State to state to wash the title.
     
     
     
     
     
     

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    “Chances are that if the owner unloaded the vehicle in such a short period of time, there is a reason why that took place.”

    In the cases of certain specialty vehicles, though, this may be less relevant, IMO. In my history with Corvettes, oftentimes they will shuffle through several owners in as many years, probably as the brief love affair wanes or spouses/budgets get in the way. I have an ’01 convertible on the ground right now with four previous owners as per AutoCheck, one of whom had the car for two years and accumulated 3500 miles in that amount of time.

    I think the best advice is this…
    “The best money any car buyer will ever spend is having their vehicle independently inspected. Neither of the two central databases can tell you how a car was driven, whether the repairs were substandard, or if there are any major cost issues on the horizon.”

    …because both AutoCheck and CarFax are general outlines that provide limited insight into a cars probable history. And nothing more. They’re certainly not the holy grail that some retail customers portend them to be.

  • avatar
    benzaholic

    I figured out many years ago that these services are generally accurate, but not generally complete. With the exception mentioned in the article about the 22,000 or 222,000 input error, if it’s on a CarFax report, it’s probably true, but there’s a good chance that there is more information that just does not appear on the CarFax.
     
    I concur that the independent prepurchase exam is the best path, made even more valuable if one has some kind of relationship with a trusted mechanic who is familiar with the model of vehicle under consideration.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Steven

    I have a car that was tapped in the back, and left several scratches in the plastic molded bumper which were repaired properly, and the paint is perfect. The police were called just to protect my interests. When I go to trade in this car in several years, will this affect the trade in value? I’m assuming it will be on the Carfax report.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Depends on the vehicle, the long-term quality of the repair, and when you decide to trade it in.
      You may just want to get a copy of the repair done so that a buyer can verify the complete story.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I have been seeing many private sellers giving documentation (pictures, receipts, and police reports) to go along with cars they are selling.

    • 0 avatar
      LALoser

      BMWfan;
      Same happened to me, a new XC70 and some lady hit the rear-end after a month. A new bumber was bolted on and as good as new. BUT, maybe a new system needs to be made with insurance claims that pay for projected loss of value because of the accident.

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    Three Cheers for Salvage and Rebuilt Titles! Disclosure: Author believes that clean Carfax reports are a hidden tax on the stupid.
    I have bought numerous cars with branded titles, styled as “rebuilt” and “salvage” and sometimes both. Three currently in my fleet are the cheapest to run, cheapest to maintain, most reliable and dependable vehicles of any kind I have ever owned. To have bought them with “clean” carfax reports would have doubled, tripled or quadrupled the selling price. I have owned one for six years (1984 Ford Pickup @ $600 selling price): total repair other than routine maintenance in 50,000 miles is $300. A 1997 Miata for $1,500 (insurance totaled because it was stolen and two front fenders @ $50 apiece were stripped), totally repaired  and brand new paint job for $1,000 (including mechanical updates and items that were not covered under its “rebuilt-salvage” title). 12,000 trouble free miles since. And a 1991 Miata “salvage title,” 12,000 miles with no repair costs. Selling price was $1,500. I seriously doubt that any vehicles with a clean carfax would have been any cheaper to have maintained, notwithstanding the much higher sales price. That has been my experience.
     
    Telling horror stories about the “dangers” of branded titles simply inflates the selling price and creates hysteria among the gullible consumer public.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Salvage and rebuilt titles that come from cars that were “totaled” can be a real mixed bag.  You really have to depend on not just the original manufacturer, but the quality of the rebuild.  Sometimes cars are re-manufactured by literally cutting a good front from one and a good back from another and welding the two together.  If you’ve got a keen eye and are knowledgeable, you probably can weed the worst out, but you don’t always know what jury rigged methods were used to do things like splicing wiring harnesses.  Faulty wiring can be really difficult and expensive to diagnose and fix.

    • 0 avatar
      Omnifan

      The real issue on salvage titles is on the more expensive cars.  I have purchased salvage cars in the past, always in the same price range that Larry P2 has.  They did what they were supposed to and were excellent buys in the sub-$1000 range.  The issue becomes more important when someone is selling a salvage title car in the $20,000 range.  Sellers in that range often buy the cars for much less and try to cover up the defects.  Usually these guys trip themselves up with the lies they tell.

      As Steven said, there’s no substitute for a mechanic’s inspection.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Here’s another source of info, thanks to our local newspaper who also did the same comparison:  You can also contact your auto insurance agent and give them the VIN of the vehicle you are considering – they can run it against their C.L.U.E. database to see if it has ever been repaired as part of an insurance claim.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Steven, regarding your Camry that flunked emissions – I had that problem with a Toyota pickup that I fueled with the cheapest gas available.  My mechanic told me to put name-brand premium in it and take a long trip. I filled the nearly empty tank and went golfing in Yuma, then refilled with premium there and drove back to San Diego. I filled up with premium and it passed the retest. The quality of the fuel makes a difference in emissions testing. You weren’t buying the cheap stuff, were you?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      As for the Camry, I always used 87 octane and was very partial to Chevron stations at the time because I thought their additives were the best available.
      The Camry 4-Cylinder from that era just generates a ton of carbon as do the Volvo red brick engines. However I never needed to replace the cat on that car… only 1 02 sensor.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      I’m surprised this hasn’t handed Toyota another huge recall.  The gov’t tracks pass fails on emissions tests and if a car goes over a certain percentage they come after the manufacturer.

  • avatar
    Zarba

    I work at a financial institution in Atlanta, and we finance lots of cars. In response to the dreck we were financing from independent dealers, we looked at both CarFax and AutoCheck.
    I ran over 100 VINs on vehicles we had financed over a 12 month period (It’s the only way to get a decent sampling and maintain data integrity). We ran them through AutoCheck and Carfax on the same date. Here’s what we found:

    1) Both were about evenly matched at accident reporting.

    2) Both seemed to have good records of emissions inspections, with mileage.

    3) AutoCheck had a FAR better record of auctgion announced frame/unibody damage. For some independents in Atlanta, over 70% of the cars we financed had frame/unibody damage.

    I don’t have my spreadsheets with me, but IIRC, over 60% of the VINs that reported frame/unibody damage on AutoCheck had a clean CarFax. That’s striking, and it made our decision easy.
    My understanding is that AutoCheck has an agreement with Manheim to report their auction data. If a car is sold through a Manheim Auction, and is auction announced as frame/unibody damage, it will be on AutoCheck.

    (If I remember, and please correct me if I’m wrong, Steve),if a dealer buys a car through Manheim, and it has frame/unibody damage that was not announced at the auction, the dealer can make the seller take it back.

    We found AutoCheck to be superior in revealing this damage.  In fact, many dealers will happily “Show You the CarFax”, knowing that the car has frame damage, and that it isn’t showing up on CarFax.
    We instituted a policy to run all used vehicles through AutoCheck prior to financing them. We culled out a number of bad dealers, and our customers are very happy when we keep them from buying a car that’s been wrecked.

    Everybody wins.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    “AutoCheck had a FAR better record of auctgion announced frame/unibody damage. For some independents in Atlanta, over 70% of the cars we financed had frame/unibody damage.”
    That is an excellent point. A few years ago I did find that the difference between Autocheck and Carfax was substantial.
    These days though there are a lot more vehicles that don’t make it to the Manheim auctions. I believe Adesa may have a contract with Autocheck as well. But even with that in mind, most of the pre-sale inspections are done for factory and fleet lease accounts, most of which have vehicles that are 2007 or newer. Both of those segments aren’t nearly as strong at the sales as they once were.
    On the dealer level, a lot of new car and independent dealers are keeping their trades or selling them through other remarketing channels. You now have far stronger independent auctions than was the case five years ago (who have no affiliations with Autocheck), and many finance companies are now attempting to handle their own inventory.
    A few years ago Autocheck had a very strong advantage when it came to vehicles that were remarketed through the auctions. But recently we had the lowest used car inventory levels in 35 years and a lot of competing auctions have made inroads without the Autocheck relationship.

    Your statement still stands though on it’s merits.  Autocheck is superior when it comes to auction vehicles as a whole, and I’ll amend my write-up to reflect that.

  • avatar
    Disaster

    As another poster mentioned.  CarFax takes no responsibility for the accuracy of it’s data.  There are numerous cases of it being wrong and customers losing lots of money with no recourse.  I recall a consumer investigation where they found a serious error rate of over 30%.  Now dealers have figured out how to game the system and are putting premiums on vehicles with inaccurately good reports.  Your best bet is to have a knowledgeable mechanic look the vehicle over…not just any mechanic, but preferably, on that is conscientious.

  • avatar
    VelocityRed3

    I think the next article should be about how to find a good mechanic.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    Thanks for this.  A couple of weeks ago I was checking out a 2006 TSX with under 20K miles.  As I was looking over the car, I looked for the VIN tags on body panels and could not find them on the front section (I think the front fender tags were behind sound dampening material, but I don’t know why I didn’t see it on the hood).  The salesman got nervous when I told him what I was looking for (he asked), and interjected “The Carfax is perfect!  I can show you inside.  Perfect!”  I told him I still wanted to see the tags.  I also pulled the oil dipstick, which concerned him, then he seemed even more shaken when I checked out the tires, particularly feeling for wear patterns.  He kept saying none of that was needed because of the Carfax.  I told him I wanted to check, anyway.
    Other than not spotting the VIN stickers, I didn’t find anything all that out of place, but I was surprised how shaken the salesman got at what I think is basic pre-inspection of a used car.  I’m definitely not a mechanic, but I personally pay attention to the tire wear and brand of tires, since I think it can give an idea on how the car was driven and if the owner’s maintenance including basic things like tire rotation.  I often find that it usually didn’t.
    If anyone’s curious, I did not buy the car for a few reasons.

  • avatar
    umbabaru

    I’m late to this conversation, but I had an experience with Carfax recently that calls into question the # of owners calculation. I found a relatively rare car (2006 accord v6 6sp) that was for sale by owner in a nearby town, but far enough away that I wanted to vet the deal before I went out there. The owner had it overpriced, and indicated he was not going to negotiate, so I never made the trip but he did give me the VIN and told me he was not the original owner. I ran the VINautocheck (I had their unlimited plan), and sure enough, from the looks of the report, it appears he was the third.
    2 months later, lo and behold there is the same car at a nearby dealer (the guy ended up trading it in!), where I am test-driving a different car (this time a WRX). So I test drive the accord as well. This time, the dealer is offering a free carfax report, and guess what? It reads “Carfax 1-Owner vehicle,” which of course the dealer is touting. 2 liens, 3 title events, so I don’t see how it ends up as a 1 owner vehicle, but it does.
    Just more evidence that one shouldn’t put too much credence into those reports.

  • avatar

    I just sold my car via eBay.  eBay has the free Carfax report for each listing.
    When I ran the CarFax against my own VIN it came back with 2 owners.  That is not accurate and it only serves to confuse potential buyers and also has them miss out on what may be a perfectly reliable car. 
    I leased my car in September of 2002.  At lease end I bought it out by financing it with the same company, going from Chase Leasing to Chase Auto Finance.  I have the original purchase documents that prove I am the only owner. So how is CarFax accurate here when my VIN came back with two owners?
    Get a mechanical inspection, skip carfax, skip autocheck.

  • avatar
    Noel

    CARFAX can not be trusted, the data they provide is not verified for accuracy.

    Mv vehicles, which I have owned since new and is falsely listed as being in a Roll-Over accident, when in fact a motorcycle slid under my rear bumper while it was parked in my driveway. The damage was minimal, I had to replace a torn bumper. Yet, because of Carfax I cannot sell mv vehicle for true market value because potential buyers ar convinced that it has been in a serious accident.

    CARFAX Reports can not be trusted. My neighbor crashed his car and required $8000 in repairs, his insurance covered it yet 2 years later when selling his car he found that the accident was never reported in the Carfax report.

  • avatar
    calgunna

    I am a Auto Dealer who who once use to use Carfax but switched to Auto check. The reason I switched is because Carfax billed me for 30 plus cars that were not mine. When I called the not so friendly staff at carfax they simply told me I pulled them I am paying for them. At that time I asked to speak to a manager. The manager told me basically the same thing and said I was a liar. I asked for another manager who said they would look into the problem. Three days later they called me to say sorry, and that what happened on my account was 1 in a million, but they wouldn’t explain what happened. I told them I didn’t like being called a liar and they said that couldn’t have happened. Every time I talked to these people they treated me like the way they portray us on their commercials.Liars who are hiding stuff. Well Dealers are there bread and butter so when I talk to my dealer friends at the auction I make sure to tell them how I feel about carfax. I am responsible for a lot of them changing over to Auto Check!

  • avatar
    JKalmer

    These 2 are big and trusted by most people or usually businesses but for an individual like me who got burned once when buying a used car, so now I run a vin check myself no matter what the owner says. it’s just $10 at vinaudit.com

  • avatar
    autovin

    You can get a detailed Carfax and Autocheck vehicle history report within seconds for only 5$ from http://www.autovin.am
    I really recommend, this is a very good site, you can pay with PayPal, which is save.


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