What Is on a CarFax Report?

If you are thinking about buying a used car, and you are thinking about buying one from a third party, you should be getting a Carfax report.

A Carfax report is a comprehensive vehicle history report that will help you ensure that you are getting a vehicle without any problems or issues. Carefully reading the Carfax can keep you from getting stuck with a problem vehicle, help you negotiate a price, and generally give you more peace of mind about your investment.

What Is a “Clean” Carfax?

You have probably heard this term thrown around a lot, and all it really means is that the Carfax report doesn’t list any significant issues. The Carfax is not as easy as a big green “CLEAN” written at the top, but with a discerning eye, it will be pretty easy to see any significant issues.

On first look, make sure that the car has not been listed as a salvage title, has not been involved in any major accidents, doesn’t have any damage from flooding or fire, and has the same person listed on the title as the person trying to sell it to you.

Of course, you should also make sure that the vehicle hasn’t been reported stolen.

CarFax Report Highlights

  • Title Information: As this information is kept with the Department of Motor Vehicles, this is the most reliable section of the Carfax report. Make sure that the person you are purchasing the vehicle from matches who the Carfax say actually owns the vehicle, or you could end up in legal trouble.
  • Mileage: The Carfax will list the last reported number of miles on the vehicle’s odometer. While some fluctuation is to be expected, if the number is dramatically different from what you see on the actual odometer, that is a red flag that you might be the victim of a fraud if you proceed.
  • The Number of Owners: If you are buying a used car, you ideally want one that has had the fewest number of previous owners. That typically indicates that the vehicle did not have any problems and has been in the same set of hands for a long time. Multiple drivers could mean that you’re getting a lemon, or worse, a car that has been fraudulently handled.
  • Accident and Damage History: Carfax uses over 100,000 sources of data in the aggregate to compile a full list of any accidents or damage done to the vehicle. Their sources are very reputable and include auto body shops, police departments, and insurance companies.
  • Ownership Type: The Carfax will tell you whether the car was used by an individual driver, for lease, or for commercial purposes. Commercial vehicles generally get more wear and tear, so it’s important to know if that’s what you’re getting yourself into.
  • Any Recalls or Bigger Issues: If the specific vehicle was recalled or had a part recalled, you will be able to see that information on the Carfax.

Things The Carfax Won’t Tell You

Of course, when you are purchasing a car, you also need to use your common sense. There are several issues that you won’t see on the Carfax report that you need to be aware of if at all possible.

  • Unreported Accidents: Carfax relies on local police departments for their accident data. If you’re purchasing a vehicle that has only been driven in a major metropolitan area, the Carfax will probably be very accurate. But if you are buying a vehicle in a smaller town, or people in your town don’t tend to report accidents, some accidents may not have been reported to Carfax by the police department. Of course, any accident that happened within the past few days also won’t be on the report.
  • Accidents as Repairs: If a body shop rather than a police department reports an incident to Carfax, it likely won’t show up as an accident. Why? Auto shops tend to report what they fixed, not what happened. If you see that a bumper has been replaced, know that this could indicate that the vehicle has been in an unreported fender-bender. You will need a close and discerning eye to get the full story.

Bottom Line

Before you decide to buy a vehicle, you should make sure to have an independent inspection and test drive. A Carfax report is an invaluable tool, but it doesn’t replace an expert opinion and the intuitive feeling you will get when you sit in the driver’s seat of the car that’s right for you.