By on March 11, 2016

Salesman With Customer

Carfax has become so commonplace that it’s now standard practice for many car buyers to ask for it when shopping for a used car. Its database has grown over the years to the point that it now claims to to have the most comprehensive vehicle history database in North America.

The reports include such valuable information as title brands, accident history, and even service history for some vehicles, but it has some limitations that unscrupulous dealers are using to their advantage. The missing data allows these dealers to represent damaged cars as clean and use the Carfax report to support those claims.

I found out about one such dealer when a friend went to trade his car and was hit with a surprising report of frame damage. He had purchased a Nissan Pathfinder a few years earlier and the selling dealer had supplied a clean Carfax through its website and offered a printout on the test drive. The car was inspected before the sale and everything seemed to be in order, so he bought it and drove it for two years.

He started shopping for a new vehicle and asked one of the dealers to evaluate the Pathfinder for a trade-in value. The dealer came back offering about half of the market value because they had found frame damage on the history report. The dealer brought a printout of the Carfax and Autocheck that showed the Pathfinder had been announced with frame damage at the auction four months before his purchase.

The report was taken back to the original selling dealer of the Pathfinder. The dealer played dumb and pulled out a copy of the original report stating that they had no knowledge of the frame damage. My friend decided to open a case with Carfax. Since it had been so long there was not much that could be done. Carfax explained that its database is comprehensive but relies on other parties to submit much of the information. That can take months or years for certain cars.


The Carfax website only points out that they collect odometer readings from auto auctions, but provides no notes in regards to auction announcements. My friend spoke to a few lawyers that deal with automotive fraud cases, but none of them recommended proceeding with a case since the burden of proof was on the buyer and it would be difficult to track the auction information down after so much time had passed. In the end, my friend disclosed the new found information and reduced the price. He sold the car for a lot less than it should have been worth.

Speaking with a few local, reputable dealers led me to find out there are a few dealers in the area that participated in an unscrupulous practice of misrepresenting cars that were marked with frame damage. These dealers seek out cars that look clean but are announced with frame damage since they go for so much less. They verify that the Carfax is clean and list the cars on their lot to sell quickly. Potential buyers see the clean Carfax and buy the dirty car. Since most people don’t recheck their vehicle history while they own car, the sleazy dealers usually get away with it. The one exception is Uber, who appears to recheck vehicle history using Autocheck on a regular basis and cancels any contracts that come up with a frame damage hit.

Carfax may receive this information months later and update, but the buyer likely won’t notice until they are ready to trade or sell the car. Autocheck does receive information from some of the big auctions and usually reports frame damage announcements on the report. They are usually fairly quick in reporting the information, so it’s a good idea to use both reports. One of the local dealers that was known for sleazy tactics was arrested a few years ago but the others are still in business.


I pulled up the inventory of another one of the dealers and was quickly able to find a vehicle that matched the scam. The dealer offers a free Carfax report for the car which shows a clean history and even offers some sort of engine warranty. The Carfax shows that the vehicle was inspected at auction and its condition was marked as above average. Running the VIN through Autocheck shows the same auction date and odometer but shows an announcement for frame damage. The vehicle is worth much less according to Autocheck, but Carfax is none the wiser.


The Carfax report does show a few additional pieces of information, such as a pending recall, but not much in the way of accidents or damage. Carfax and Autocheck are valuable resources in checking the condition of a car but sleazy dealers find ways around them and information may not be reported at all. It’s vitally important to complete a pre-purchase inspection on any potential used car along with checking Carfax and Autocheck.

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75 Comments on “How Sleazy Car Dealers Pass Off Frame Damage Cars As Clean...”

  • avatar

    Unless I’ve actually missed something in reading the post, I’m still not quite sure how they go about disguising the damage? Is it that the damage is eventually reported? Otherwise, how do you explain the discrepancies between the original Carfax for the Pathfinder and the one from 2 years later? Maybe you could clarify this further.

    • 0 avatar

      Initially, the damage is only reported on the AutoCheck as Carfax is not getting the announcement data from the auction directly. It may appear on the Carfax months later if it gets reported to them or they pick it up from another database.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes you missed something and that is the fact that it can take months for some things to show up on carfax. So the dealers that engage in this practice look for the vehicle that has a very recent repair and then price it at what would be a too good to be true price for an undamaged vehicle. They move it off the lot well before carfax has catches up with it.

      • 0 avatar

        Months? Years. Last time I looked for a used car, Carfax offered a 30 day subscription, so I looked up some old cars we had owned. A leased Jeep Grand Cherokee we had came up clean, even though it had been in a fairly minor accident which required a frame pull. Police report and two insurance claims were filed as we fought over responsibility. None of it showed up on Carfax. There was a link to add info, and I completed it. Gave the date of the accident and the city it occurred. I’m sure it was screened by Carfax, but I have no idea if it was verified and added to the report. But someone had bought the car, thinking it was accident free, unless they put it on a lift and inspected it.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a time lag between events happening and info actually hitting the CarFax report.

      1. Car is damaged and fixed by someone.
      2. Car sent to auction, where “frame damage” is announced.
      3. Buyer checks CarFax, there’s no damage on it
      4. Buys car at auction, quickly flips at dealer.
      5. Four months later (for example) frame damage shows up on CarFax. Buyer already driving car is not aware.
      6. Three years later buyer goes to resell car, discovers issue.

      Edit: I’m too slow!

    • 0 avatar

      AutoCheck sources damage information directly from auctions. AutoCheck is owned by Experian who works with Cox (who owns Manheim, the largest auction company in the US) to cull their data for their AutoCheck reports.

      CARFAX sometimes picks up Structural Damage reports from the auction, but it depends on how it was announced and by whom. Factory-owned cars with structural seem to get reported to CARFAX quicker than other cars through the block.

  • avatar

    CarFax is absolutely useless…a bad CarFax report will tell you something, but a “clean” one can just mean that repairs were done somewhere that doesn’t report to CarFax. I worked in a large luxury bodyshop for 4 years…we did LOTS of self-pay repairs because people were afraid their insurance company would report to CarFax…I had more than one person do a $20,000+ repair and pay on a credit card so there would be no reporting. Imagine buying a late model M5 that the seller had gotten tangled up in the cable barriers along I-70, and took all four corners off the car…but the CarFax is clean…

    The hypothetical car was repaired on Celette fixtures, with all BMW parts, and was likely as well-repaired as anywhere in the world, but would you want that car?

    • 0 avatar

      You are absolutely correct and I always stress that a Pre-Purchase Inspection is the most important part of checking the history of a car for that exact reason.

      • 0 avatar

        “a Pre-Purchase Inspection is the most important part of checking the history of a car”

        No. A PPI is not meant to provide the service history of a car. At best you might get some vague idea about some thing but I wouldn’t call any of that HISTORY. You probably meant to say a stack of service records.

        A PPI on all general items, and additional targeted checks by a specialist based on what the stack of papers has revealed IS the most important part in DECIDING whether you should buy it.

        • 0 avatar

          When I purchased my Mercedes, I sent it to what appeared to be a very reputable indy with a good reputation. They gave it a clean bill of health so I didn’t spend a lot of time picking it down as I usually do. This car was over 100 miles away, so getting someone to do the dirtywork seemed like a good idea.
          Turns up, it had been bottomed out at one point underbelly plastic had scrape holes in it, the plastic jack points had been ripped off all four corners tearing the body in the process. The brakes were garbage (got a pad slap), the HVAC auto climate was broken, the ABC system hydraulic fluid was black as ink having never been changed and the ABC pump subsequently failed within a few months, the valve blocks have had troubles also.
          I called the shop that inspected it, they apologized and refunded me my $100; cold comfort when I’ve spent about $3000 to fix the stuff they missed. I complained some more and they offered to send me some rotors–dude never did, totally flaked.
          So in my experience a PPI is good IF the shop that’s doing it gives a rat’s fanny. Also being far away I’m sure they knew that I wouldn’t bother coming back and what’s one bad review among all the good ones?
          Next time, I’ll bring a set of coveralls, a jack, my stands a flashlight and a creeper. I’ll also take off all the underbelly pans as they do a great job hiding many sins.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Exactly. My Golf SportWagen was involved in a minor collision when it was a month old, and it was never reported to CarFax or AutoCheck.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh no, root beer!

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          I did not spill root beer in that collision, haha. I did spill a whole bag of Panda Express (it wasn’t mine; I was holding it for a friend) in the passenger footwell, though.

          • 0 avatar

            Panda Express… the reason pandas are an endangered species!

            (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

          • 0 avatar

            Never in life have I eaten at Panda Express or Chik-Fil-A. I have no particular reason for this, but I have heard PE is no good.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Chick-Fil-A is good, although those of us in the LGBTQ community have several nicknames for it, including Hate Chicken.

          • 0 avatar

            Chick-Fil A is good but I have stopped eating there because I don’t agree with their messages either.

            Panda Express is alright in my area as long as you walk in. Don’t expect the drive through to actually get your order right. There are a few family owned Chinese restaurants in the area but they seem to not care that their cuisine doesn’t seem to have much effort put into its preparation or service. (And that’s coming from a guy who would rather eat at a not-chain restaurant when given a choice.)

          • 0 avatar

            I rarely eat Chinese food, it’s so full of salt and grease (at least what I order) that I feel guilty about it for a couple days afterward. Rather cook something meself.

            But there’s a good independent place that’s on my street. Orange chicken mmm.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            Hate Chicken, that’s funny.

            “Welcome to Chick-Fil-A, would you like to try our Classic Hate, Grilled Hate, or Spicy Hate? We also have a new express menu guaranteed to be at your table in 120 seconds, called the Two Minutes Hate”

          • 0 avatar

            I stopped eating at Chick-Fil-A when I found out they use MSG. I avoid that crap like the plague.

          • 0 avatar

            I despise the owners of Chick-Fil-A (though I admire their conviction on the closed on Sundays thing) for all the usual reasons. But I must admit, I do occasionally get a sandwich there because they are darned GOOD! And we don’t have them here in Maine so it is something different. Had one for lunch yesterday in Houston.

            Yes, I live a conflicted life in many ways.

            As for this article, did the car in question actually have frame damage? I figure a Carfax is worth the paper it is printed on – I have had TWO salvage title cars with clean Carfaxes..

    • 0 avatar

      I do not for an instant think that many if any people do a customer pay for a $20K+ repair to avoid it showing up on the carfax history. It does not make sense to pay $20K to avoid loosing $5-$10K of vehicle value. If the person is savvy enough that they know that the carfax showing a collision would lower the value significantly they are probably savvy enough to know that they will be ok if they go and trade it in as soon as the paint dries. My wife’s car was rear ended a couple of years ago and if we had been able to do it at the time, it would have been traded in as soon the day after it was picked up.

      Those $20K customer pays are someone that did a hit and run or otherwise don’t want to get the authorities involved because it could lead to them losing their license and/or becoming uninstallable due to too many claims.

      There is a good chance that the driver of the BMW that got into the cable barrier probably had a couple drinks in him and because the car was still driveable he got out of there.

      Here is a great example of someone who had a few drinks in them, got in a collision, and tried to get home to keep the authorities out of it. Had she been successful you can bet that repair would have been a customer pay.

      Also a great example of just how tough a Panther is and why so many people have the Panther love.

      • 0 avatar

        “I do not for an instant think that many if any people do a customer pay for a $20K+ repair to avoid it showing up on the carfax history.”

        I could see exotic (Ferrari, R8 V10, SLR, Carrera GT, Mulsanne, etc.) owners doing it. On a mega-depreciation wagon like an M5 or XJR? Not really.

        • 0 avatar

          The amount of money people will sink into repairing Ferraris is nuts.

          The Gas Monkey guys sunk at least a quarter mil into a F40 and I think more than twice that was spent fixing the Gizmondo guy’s Enzo, but I guess limited production Ferraris are worth so much money that they literally cannot be totaled.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My Leaf’s front end collision was repaired by a certified Nissan body shop, and it needed some frame straightening – $4000 in damage. The car wasn’t quite perfect after the repair – the charging door didn’t spring up as readily, and the car creaked a little over bumps.

      When the car was resold in a used car lot 10 months later, it had a clean Carfax. I even wrote to the car dealer and advised them of this issue, but they never responded.

      I was curious why even Nissan’s third-party shop didn’t report the work to Carfax, but I suspect it’s the same reason employees don’t report minor workplace accidents to their employer – they don’t want to stir the pot.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Bozi, A useful article. It however begs the question and I believe that Mark had forwarded the following question to you. What about a used vehicle that has been in an accident and repaired and whose damage was not hidden and reported on Carfax?

    My example was a low mileage 2009 Pontiac Vibe. A nice reliable runabout with a high depreciation as an orphan. Interior was immaculate and it looked good from a visible inspection, even the tires had no irregular wear patterns.

    It’s Carfax listed and the salesman at the dealership made sure to bring this to my attention that it had been in multiple accidents. Rear end for $8k in its first 6 months. Front end in 2011 for $6k. Three months later front fender area for $1.5k. Nothing in the nearly 4 years since then.

    If these accidents were reported and repaired under insurance, then just how much less should this car be worth and would it be OK as a used car purchase or should we just walk away?

    I have also read that Carfax in Canada is somewhat more complete/up to date, than in the US. Is this true?

    • 0 avatar

      With that many hits I wouldn’t go more than 60% of the book value for an undamaged car.

    • 0 avatar

      Arthur, I still owe you a full response and will get one your way once I have a little more info on the Canadian Carproof.

      First, from what I have found so far, Carproof in Canada seems to be a lot more complete because it shows actual cost of repair which is a big benefit.

      Since you do have the benefit of seeing the repair costs I would stay away from that specific Vibe. Just the $8,000 in rear end repairs seems like a lot of damage to me since the major components for that are not expensive.

      I went and pulled up all of the OEM parts for the rear to include the reinforcement bar, absorber, bumper, mounting brackets, and other misc bits and come up with a cost of $900. Pricing here:

      Even if the parts cost was doubled that would mean that there are still thousands of dollars in labor, paint, and possible time on a frame machine so the damage was likely extensive.

      Since you have the luxury of seeing repair costs, I would look up some major components for a car that has been in an accident and base my opinion on that. If parts are expensive than an a large claim can be somewhat explained but if parts are cheap like they are for the Vibe then I would stay away.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Bozi, Thanks. I look forward to your follow-up article.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        I disagree with Bozi’s analysis of the costs here. When it cost $8K to repair it was still a new car. Now 7 years later he’s looking at parts prices. What did the parts cost when the car was only six months old? Were there as many LKQ parts available then, as there are now?

        I learned this when my wife hit a deer with her 4 month old Prius. The only parts available were OEM so the repair was super expensive. On the two page parts list the only non OEM part was a single clip! I’m pretty sure that today the same repair would cost a lot less.

        • 0 avatar

          All of the parts listed in the link above are OEM GM parts and based on my experience with GM parts adjustments, they are likely more expensive then they were while the car was in production. If we consider LKQ and aftermarket R-Dot parts then the price of parts will go down almost by half.

        • 0 avatar

          Yea but would you want non-oem parts? There’s no way I would use aftermarket sourced parts on one of my vehicles, the only situation I would is in the case of my scout where some companies may have the original presses etc IH used.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            Exactly. With my example would you want to use non OEM parts on a 6 month old car?

            I think that Bozi is correct. On a car with an MSRP of about $22k new, an $8k repair to the rear end. even if a grossly inflated invoice, would still represent some pretty significant and probably structural damage.

  • avatar

    Whoever “inspected” the car prior to the hapless buyer signing on the dotted line is a real idiot. If you, mechanic, are going to claim you can perform pre-purchase used car inspections, you clearly have no *bleep!*-ing clue what you are doing if you can’t spot repaired frame damage. Even a cheap ($65) Paint Thickness Gauge from Amazon would have spotted something requiring further attention.

    • 0 avatar

      You might be surprised how well-camouflaged a proper repair can be. I have seen metal men put filler on a frame rail and twirl the eraser-end of a pencil in the still-soft filler to replicate spot weld marks. That’s just a small example of the art involved with body work. If you have ever dealt with PCA members who crawl under their car to count the number of welds after a repair, you’ll understand.

      • 0 avatar

        How does one get around the paint thickness problems? Even if you start from bare metal, an after-market job will never have the same thickness as a factory job due to it being applied in a totally different way. (In the factory, it’s applied by electrically charging the car to attract the paint droplets from computer-controlled robots, and then it’s baked at a fairly high temperature. In a body shop, it’s a guy with a paint gun, using aftermarket paint, and a much lower-temp oven to cure.)

        • 0 avatar

          I truly doubt anyone would check film thickness unless there is already a visible red flag like a masking line in a door jamb or overspray where it doesn’t belong. I also think film thickness is more relevant where there is body filler, not just fresh sheetmetal with fresh paint on it. The booths in the shop where I worked heated to about 180F, I have no clue what temp the factory heats to.

          I was hired to do a PDI on a 911 variant, allegedly one of 3 imported to the US in chrome yellow, allegedly all factory paint. I could see, before it was unloaded from the rollback, that the right quarter had been painted. Opening the door revealed a hard mask line in the jamb. Called the buyer, told him that little nugget, he refused delivery and sent it back without my looking any closer than that. Some buyers are picky, rightfully so.

          • 0 avatar

            But with the tool so cheap, ubiquitous, and easy-to-use, why wouldn’t you check paint thickness as a matter of course in a PPI, obvious paint errors or not?

  • avatar

    It’s your own damned fault. Stop whining. Buy a dealership.

    – Ruggles

  • avatar

    Very informative!
    Thank you, Bozi

  • avatar

    “What’s great about this car here is that it’s red.”

    “Fine, I’ll take it. Let’s just get this paperwork finished so I can get my roots done.”

  • avatar

    Castigating a car simply because it has ‘frame/structural damage’ in and of itself is highly dubious and illogical without being fully cognizant of exactly WHY the auction has tagged that car as having ‘structural damage.’

    Remember, ‘structural damage’ noted by AutoCheck from an auction is the result of a ~20 minute walkaround inspection done by an employee of an auction where hundreds of cars can be inspected per day. Structural damage can also vary auction by auction.

    Also, not all ‘structual damage’ is the same vehicle to vehicle. Core support damage? Sure, that’s concerning and can be a sign of a major accident. A 3-inch scratch or dent on a rocker or trunkpan? You could’ve done that by backing over a parking stop. Installing a 5th wheel bracket in a pickup is ‘structural damage.’ Some means of installing an aftermarket hitch to a vehicle is considered ‘structural damage’ depending on the auction.

    Tagging a car with ‘structual damage’ is a way for the auction (RE: Manheim in particular) to cover their a** in arbitration and especially with OVE purchases. ‘Structural damage’ is also a great way for a dealer to devalue a potential trade-in and rob it. You know an otherwise outstanding car is going to be right on the front-line after being taken in for half market value because “its worthless.”

    Its doesn’t mean a car is a junk car.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t disagree with you and my aim was not to state that such a car is junk car but more to point out that it will be worth less when you go to sell or trade it if it has the frame damage mark on its history.

      I agree that some of the so-called frame damage can be something very minor and some of these cars may be perfectly fine if you plan to keep them forever. I thought about mentioning the arbitration angle but figured that might be going to deep into it.

      • 0 avatar

        Full disclosure – I buy cars with structural all the time for retail. I tell people about prior accident damage and I don’t ask full retail.

        I drive frame cars all the time as demos. My girlfriend has a frame car, my friends have frame cars, etc.

        And I feel a lot better putting someone in a car with a bent apron than I do in a higher-mileage overpriced pile with potential mechanical issues.

        What surprises me are the amount of new franchise dealers who are buying frame cars ostensibly for their regular front-line inventory, not a ‘budget lot.’ I tried to steal a ’16 SRX Performance Collection w/6800 miles from GM Financial two weeks ago with structural because of a dent on the floorpan. Guess who outbid me? Devoe Cadillac. Go figure.

        • 0 avatar

          Whoa, that is surprising. My previous knowledge led me to believe that franchise dealers usually stuck cars like those at their “$9999 Specials Lot” but I had not seen many go to the front line.

          I wonder what kind of disclosure they are giving along with these cars and how they are pricing them.

          Also, I did not mean to insinuate that all dealers that sell frame cars are bad since I was one of them.

          My point was more to state that you need to look carefully at these cars because there are always a few dealers in every town who take advantage of these disclosures and price frame cars almost equally to clean cars. These

    • 0 avatar

      The big deal is that the dealer s relying on information they have that is not shared with the buyer, is using a carfax to provide an assurance they know is not true, and is therefore engaged in fraud, has a business model commonly known as a con, and is engaged in the opposite of “free market” enterprise. Not that frame damaged cars are unusable, just that selling them as cars without frame damage when they actually have frame damage to increase profit is fraudulent.

  • avatar

    Carfax cannot match or exceed the info from a real stack of papers with signatures, observations from the mechanic, part numbers, etc.

    I get it that we should warn new buyers against reliance on the carfax smokescreen, but anyone who knows how this works doesn’t take carfax as a drop-in equivalent, except in rare cases.

    Carfax is there to put lipstick on all used stock that would never sell at excellent condition. Carfax does nothing to remove the “caveat emptor” disclaimer in the used-car buying process. One example is what is pointed out here, that it can take several weeks to months for the info to show up, and with all the disclaimers and fine print, they are not legally bound if auction data comes out after a car is sold.

    Take the so called “Carfax guarantee” — it only covers the titling of the car, not its service history. The don’t call it the Carfax *title* guarantee — they rely on the fact that most people do not read the fine print, and know the end user will assume it covers ALL the info in the report.

    • 0 avatar

      Correct. Carfax guarantees its information as of the pull date. Period. And the ‘BUYBACK GUARANTEE’ is a hedge against title branding issues it misses, which is very rare.

      As a dealer partner, CARFAX encourages you to pull a new report every 30-60 days (I forget, but its actually in the agreement somewhere) to ensure accuracy.

      CARFAX – like anything – is a guide and an element of a larger puzzle to give you a general idea of a car to the point where you are comfortable purchasing it. Some customers get too wrapped up in using it as a safety blanket. Oddly enough, the folks I tend to throw a CARFAX at will hardly ever balk at multiple accident damage, multiple owners, and the like while the cars with almost impeccable service histories get the most scrutiny – (“I see this car missed a service in 2009…but then picked back up after the first of the year. What happened?”…Yeah. ’cause I know.)

  • avatar


    There’s actually a dealer here in Denver that sells frame-damaged cars openly.

    What’s your opinion…good move, bad move? I’m thinking if you were buying the car and planning to drive it to death, maybe not such a bad move, as long as the damage was properly disclosed.

    And for some reason these guys seem to have a crapload of Mazdas. Not sure what’s up with that…

    My inclination is to steer clear…but what are your thoughts?

    • 0 avatar

      That is a tricky situation. I have owned lots of rebuilt vehicles but I was the one that repaired them. Buying a vehicle that was repaired by someone else can be more trouble than it’s worth.

      My general rule of thumb is not to buy salvage vehicles rebuilt by others just because you never know how it might have been put together.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Mike, I actually was considering the possibility of branded title vehicles from Autosource and a similar dealer here in the Salt Lake area–a $28K GS350 with 12K miles really catches the eye–but shelved that idea. The problem for me was the unknown & unknowable future resale value and insurance valuation. I could avoid resale by driving it to death, but what if someone hits me in the Lexus I paid $28K for but the insurance company only thinks it is worth $20K due to the branded title?

      Other questions came up. How do I really know if it was repaired properly and won’t start having collision-related issues in a few years? How do I even know if I’m getting a good deal on the purchase price when there is no KBB for Branded Title Vehicles?

      Utah DMV states that a vehicle will have a branded title if damaged “to the extent that the cost of repairing the vehicle for safe operation exceeds its fair market value”. How much damage has to occur to a nearly $40K Lexus for it to exceed fair market value?

  • avatar

    Lesson learned here is Buyer Beware.

    I looked long and hard several years back at a very nice Gen2 Avalon that had a clean Carfax. It was for sale from a Tier 2 used car dealer.

    However, as clean as the interior was, and the low (58K or so) mileage on a 9 year old car, something was not sitting right with me. There was fisheye in the paint on the hood and left side A pillar, something not usually found on a Toyota.

    Right off the bat I realized Carfax’s clean report didn’t mean I called for the local Toyota dealer to do a PPI. Best 150 I ever spent…their body tech showed me it had been hit, and hit hard..enough to make a 1/8″ difference between the left and right door openings (measured from the front of the front door to the rear of the back door) .

    Whoever repaired it tried to move the doors to center the panel gaps, but it really jumped out at me once the tech explained what happened. Other evidence was some masking details under the hood, even though the radiator X member looked perfect.

    Bottom line, keep your emotions in check and get that PPI even with a clean Carfax.

    When confronted with the PPI, the seller was also taken aback. The car was procured from State Farm, who sold him the car with a 100% no-risk buyback guarantee, so he wasn’t out anything by rejecting the car, so he had no reason to try to pawn it off on anyone who caught the problem. He promised to send it back..whether he did..who knows? I offered him low book, and he showed me his invoice which indicated he would lose money on the deal.

    If he tried to sell it without disclosing the information I gave him, THEN he would be the sleaze.

  • avatar

    My personal experience with Carfax has been that it is next to useless.

    In ~2006, I bought a 2003 Grand Cherokee that had been hit hard enough in the nose to break the radiator support. The Carfax was clean, so I was unaware of the issue and paid full price for the car. Fast forward a few years later, the Carfax was still clean, but CarMax discovered the issue when I brought it in for an estimate and I received a very low offer.

    I also owned a 2007 Civic that was hit twice while I owned it. Once I was rear ended at ~15 mph (enough to smash the bumper and tweak the trunk), and once in the front corner hard enough to knock the whole front bumper off and damage the front suspension. Both issues were reported to insurance and repaired in their recommended repair facilities. Neither incident showed up on the Carfax when I went to trade the car in.

  • avatar

    CarFax is a great tool for dealers…you go to trade in your car, they point out that it was wrecked and repaired,even if it was done well, in a good shop, or even the dealership’s own shop and offer a low-ball trade-in offer…

    Turn around and sell it as a used car that was “expertly repaired in our own shop” and downplay the whole thing…win-win for them.

    On the subject of why people self-pay instead of using insurance…sometimes they want a clean CarFax, sometimes their beloved son has already had a wreck or two…had the mother of a student at The Priory, fancy boy’s high school in St Louis, come in with her son and 4 of his schoolmates in tow…sonny-boy had managed to hit 4 parked cars on the lot at school and the mother preferred to self-pay. Plunked down her AMEX and took care of it.

    The dealership that our shop was associated with would lowball trade-ins if there was a bad CarFax, to the point that they refused to take them in trade, depending on the severity of the damage and how desirable the car was. That would generate irate phone calls from the car owner asking why we messed up their car. WE didn’t, the driver did, and we FIXED it. If the sales manager was trying to gig them, so be it, but our repair was sound. It was ever-so-slightly dysfunctional.

    • 0 avatar

      The thing is what I see on Carfax reports is the collision report from the police stating things like “damage RF air bags deployed, cityville police dept” but never have I seen “repair RF” Joe’s Autobody anytown USA. If it is mentioning insurance it is “insurance declared total loss”.

      So self pay won’t keep a clean title if there was an accident report. The problem is that most times insurance wants an accident report before they will pay what is obviously collision damage. So self pay’s can be do keep the police out of the matter since insurance doesn’t want to pay until they have a copy of the accident report to see if they can pursue reimbursement from the other driver or their insurance.

      So yeah self pays are mainly to avoid the law or dropped insurance/increased rates and rarely an attempt to maintain a clean carfax.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed that CarFax seems to help dealers on trade ins more than anyone else. My parents just got dinged (no pun intended) because of an accident record. Never mind that the damage was limited to the left-rear door on their trade in vehicle and that it had been virtually perfectly repaired (which I say as someone who’s very OCD about cosmetic repairs). The accident was enough to put the car into a broad, permanent state of “damaged,” which could be anything worse than a scratch but short of a salvage title.

      CarFax also can have errors too. When trading in their previous car, the CarFax had a cryptic, partial entry for “accident” in “Texas.” No municipality or any other details. Never mind that the same report indicated the car had undergone emissions testing the previous day 1,000 miles away. It also had been owned by a relative at the time, so we knew the car never had been in Texas, let alone damaged there.

  • avatar

    Accident reports have become an industry standard when selling/buying used vehicles at auctions or retail. These same reports are fraught with inaccuracies, while providing a sense of comfort.

    A clean accident report could be clean, or inaccurate, while most of the time they are accurate or very close.

    Lease returns especially when dealing with luxury cars, the financial service company wants the entire history mentioned on an accident report to protect their position and interests.

    Folks can trade a vehicle as it leaves a body shop, can pay for the damage themselves and probably a myriad of other instances to camouflage an accident report. Obvious the buyer can measure the paint thickness of the body panels.

    As for frame damage, all vehicles have crush zones, and a meaningful impact will transfer to the crush zones. How many body shops actually replace a partially crushed component, compared to stretching it back to normal dimensions. How many insurance companies will pay to have a vehicle on a Celette bench.

    Most auctions do not consider any collision damage below $3,000 and someone to protect their interest in a minor collision to be certain there are no come backs might just declare “frame damage” as a protective measure.

    In Canada most instances when a customer trades in a vehicle the dealer will pull an accident report, and the customer signs a declaration that the
    vehicle was not involved in an accident.

    Substantial hits on any vehicle will eventually appear on a report, at some point and time. If a vehicle is accidented the reasonable dealer will clearly mention that its an “accident-repair” to protect their interests.

  • avatar

    I work for a financial institution. 5-6 years ago, we looked at CarFax vs. AutoCheck.

    We found roughly 60%+ of AutoCheck cars with auction-announced frame damage had clean CarFax’s. Since then, we have exclusively used AutoCheck.
    This is well-known among those in my line of work around here.

    EVERY used car we look at for financing for a customer from an independent dealer is run through AutoCheck. We’ve saved our customers (and ourselves) many thousands of dollars by ID’ing these cars (And the dealers peddling them). If we find a dealer playing this game, we blacklist them.

    While AutoCheck is helpful, it is not a panacea. Nor is CarFax. it’s just one of many tools. If you’re a buyer, a competent mechanic’s inspection is always your best insurance.

  • avatar

    Similar thing happened to my wife. She bought a 3 year old Honda Accord in 2001 privately. It had a few scratches but it had low mileage and decent price. We pulled a Carfax and it came up clean (this was in 2001). We ended traded it in 2013 and the dealer pulled up the Carfax and it stated that it was in a major accident in 1999 (or 2000) with almost $10K worth of repairs (we paid $14K). It really didn’t matter for the trade in value as it was 15 years old at that point. The two things that bothered me the most was she over paid for the car back in 2001. Secondly, if we were in an accident a few years later the unibody probably would not have held up as well putting us at risk (and our kids).

  • avatar

    The most I have paid for a used car was $3500 back in the 80’s. Since then I have purchased new vehicles. Even the new ones can have problems.

    In 1990, I bought a new Pontiac Grand Prix that had a paint peel problem while still under warranty. The dealer wheeled off the paint down to bare metal and repainted it, but before it came out of the shop I decided this was something I didn’t really want to keep and I traded it in on a new 1993.

    To see if a vehicle has been painted, look for overspray/excess paint:
    – Around electrical conduits in door jambs
    – Near door, hood, and trunk hinges
    – On window and door seals
    – Around seals and fittings in the engine compartment firewall
    – Along the trim pieces inside wheel wells

  • avatar

    This is why you get a PPI done. Any mechanic worth their salt will be able to see if body work, and especially frame work, has been done.

    Over a 7 year period in my last car I was rear ended 3 times while sitting at lights and had the front bumper torn off by a guy in a parking lot who wasn’t paying attention. I went through insurance all 4 times. Only one of those accidents even made it on to the Carfax I pulled when I sold it.

  • avatar

    I’m confused; doesn’t Carfax provide a buyback guarantee? If at the time of the purchase, the Carfax report showed up clean and they offered buyback guarantee, as printed on the report, isn’t there enough of a case for Carfax to buy the car back?

    • 0 avatar

      Read FlyBrian’s comment above.

      The “Buyback Guarantee” only covers title branding issues that Carfax misses. In this case, the title was never branded as salvage, and Carfax didn’t miss the report of frame damage, because it hadn’t been reported to them at the time the dealer pulled Carfax report.

  • avatar

    I know two body guys who worked on the docks in Boston repairing damaged cars as they came off the boat. Damage was anything from quarter panel respray/match to a light scratches to even some replacements (bumper covers, doors). None of that shows up on Carfax. These are brand new, zero mile vehicles we are talking about here. I have bought two used vehicles that had prior damage not listed out by Carfax. One, I was not surprised, the other, quite surprised and was told the repair was done correctly. Caveat Emptor.. always.

    • 0 avatar

      The textbook case on punitive damages (literally – this was in my business law textbook as an undergrad) concerns cars fixed before being sold as new:,_Inc._v._Gore

  • avatar

    I have found numerous incidents where Carfax was inaccurate.

    Auto auctions report vehicles that have holes drilled in the frame as frame damaged too. If your pickup has/had a gooseneck hitch, it likely has extra holes which constitute frame damage by the auction and Carfax.

    I had a car which Carfax showed having been in a moderate collision in Hawaii two months after I purchased it. The car was (and still is) in Minnesota since new, and I certainly didn’t take it to Hawaii. When I contacted Carfax about this, they asked me to prove it wasn’t in Hawaii on that day! The collision I DID have several years later, doesn’t show up, but my fictitious Hawaii crash is still there.

    • 0 avatar

      “I have found numerous incidents where Carfax was inaccurate.”

      That’s because Carfax can only show what has been reported to them. If damage or repair is not reported to them, or if you do the work yourself like many hobbyists do, Carfax will never know.

      Case in point, East Coast off-leaser BMW 528ix in tip-top shape, clean Carfax sheet.

      Turns out it was completely repainted when passenger-side front fender, door and rear quarter panel were repaired after brushing a guard rail. Work done by pros, for cash. No record of it until a fender bender revealed Bondo work.

      Caveat Emptor applies, especially to used.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    The salesman pulled up the car fax report on my 2013 Volt before I bought it a few weeks ago. It was clean but now after reading this who knows. I know the dealer bought it at auction and it was from Ohio originally. Nothing seems funky about it that would leave me to believe it’s been repaired. Personally I could car less about a little fender bender just don’t want anything that’s been on a frame rack. Especially a Volt with that battery pack running down its spine.

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