Carfax is known as the number one consumer reporting tool when it comes to buying used cars. While other companies, such as AutoCheck, exist, Carfax remains the ‘go to’ when it comes to vehicle reporting. Many people, however, do not understand exactly what a vehicle report is, nor how to read them. It’s very important when shopping for a used car that you understand
exactly how to read a vehicle report, and remember to ask for one! The purpose of this article is to help you interpret exactly what a Carfax is and how to read it.
How Carfax Gathers Information:
The first thing to note on a Carfax is that it’s only as good as the information that was reported. Carfax is not a magical office that has vehicle telepathy. They do not magically “know” every car’s history. They get reports from businesses that choose to report to them. No one is forced to. Whether or not a shop or service center chooses to report is purely up to them. Many small or independent service centers do not report, and if a person chooses to do maintenance on their own, certainly that will never get reported. Because of that, once in a while you will come across a Carfax that is almost blank. Of course, the date it was manufactured will be available; all manufactures report. If it was ever sold it will be listed; all MVA’s and DMV’s report. However, if the person did all the maintenance on their own, or took it to a small local shop, none of that will be listed. It does not mean the car was not maintained. It simply means ‘we do not know’. It could have been perfectly maintained. It also could have been poorly maintained. The best thing to do with a lack of Carfax history is to ask the dealer if any maintenance records were left in the vehicle. If they were, the dealer will make those available. If they were not, ask for the MD State Inspection report, ask the dealer what service they performed, and ask to take the car to your personal mechanic to have it checked. Any reputable dealer will surely agree.
Car Ownership History:
The next thing to note is the number of owners. Every single owner that was ever on the title is counted. A car can be listed as a “six owner” car; that does not mean it was sold six times. It could simply mean six owners were on the title. And yes, we have seen this before! Sometimes a set of parents will buy a car for their children. They will both go on the title and list each of their children. It’s very common for a husband and wife to both go on a car, and almost just as common for a husband and wife and their child to go on a car. Instead of looking at the “number” of owners, scan down and look at the “ownership history”. It will separate the owners from the number of times it was sold. What’s important is how many times the vehicle changed hands. A car was that sold often can mean issues. However, remember that the more expensive the car, the most often it changes hands. Luxury car owners tend to keep cars for shorter periods of time. The average is a less than two years.
Vehicle Price Calculator:
Another great tool that Carfax offers is the “price calculator”. Carfax will let you know if regular oil changes were reported and or how much maintenance history was reported. A good “reported” history increases the value of the car. People like to know the history of the vehicle they’re buying! (Hint: to increase your car’s value, always take it to a shop that reports to Carfax so that good maintenance records are reported and increase your resale value). Carfax will show a “price adjustment value”. This is a number that is either added or subtracted from the retail book value. Simply take the book value of your car, add or subtract the amount they list, and that will be the projected value of the vehicle. You always want to buy a car that’s projected to be worth more than the retail book value.
The next thing to look at on a Carfax is the maintenance history itself. People get very caught up in the number of owners and accidents. There is much more to a Carfax than those two things. The engine or transmission could have been replaced. Those don’t count as accidents and the only way to find something like that is to read through the Carfax maintenance records. Take ten minutes, carefully read, and ask questions! If you’re unsure about something, the dealership that did the work will be listed to the left. Feel free to call and ask them to explain the maintenance done on the date listed. It will be in their records. By doing this, you can ensure you don’t buy a vehicle with a history of electrical issues, or a car that was brought to a dealer five times for a knocking engine noise. If an owner brought a car in five or six times for an issue, most likely there’s a problem. Whether or not it was fixed is a question you should ask.
Lastly, remember the odometer reading can sometimes trip a Carfax up. The odometer is reported every time a car is brought in for maintenance. At many service centers, the person entering the information into the computer is not the mechanic. They can easily mistype or enter the wrong mileage. If the mileage is reported inaccurately, then the Carfax has an error. This will create an odometer discrepancy. When this happens, consumers assume the odometer was rolled back. This is not the case. In this day and age, odometers are not easily rolled back. 99.9% of the time, someone just entered the wrong information. The dealership will simply call Carfax, report the error, and it will be corrected. It’s not a cause for panic. Simply ask the dealer to ensure the error is reported, and make sure it get corrected on the Carfax. This is important to ensure the resale value of the car.
Carfax is a great tool that helps you buy used cars. More often that not, owners do not leave maintenance records in their cars. Maintenance records are thick and take up a lot of space. Most people end up taking them inside or throwing them out. Carfax makes up for this and allows you to see exactly what was done to the vehicle when it’s reported. You can go online to http://www.carfax.com/blog/how-to-read-a-carfax-report/ to get more information on reading Carfaxes or ask your dealership to help you. Remember to always shop at a dealer that gives free Carfaxes! Refusing to give a carfax is a sign of hiding information or being cheap. If a dealer can’t afford to give a Carfax, most likely they’re cutting corners other places as well.