Buying a used car can be full of missteps and hidden problems. But thanks to Carfax and a quick trip to a mechanic, you can avoid these pitfalls. If you are in the process of buying a used car, you need Carfax! It can be used for so much more, though.
Here’s our guide on how to use Carfax
Make no mistake, Carfax is essential in the process of buying a used car. It can help narrow down your research, and help you make a decision on buying your next used car. Before signing the papers and parting with your hard-earned money, we definitely recommend having a mechanic review any used car you are planning on buying.
Checking Carfax records will reveal important information about cars that won’t require a mechanic’s review. If you see that a car had been involved in an accident, that would be a big red flag.
How do you get Carfax for free?
Dealers and online car marketplaces often provide free Carfax for the vehicle they are selling. Those are easy to spot. Case in point, if you go to AutoTrader.com and search for used hatchback cars, you will see the logo of Carfax on some of the listings. If you click on it, you will will be able to see the car’s history.
See the screenshot of Autotrader listing above. If you click on the “SHOW ME THE CARFAX,” image, a new browser tab will open and you will be able to see the car’s history.
Accessing Carfax through online car marketplaces is one way to get a free Carfax report without paying. However, not every dealer provides a free Carfax report. You may need to pay for this service if the used car dealership does not provide it.
The other option to get a Carfax report would be to look for a used car on Carfax.com. Yes, they also have an online marketplace for used cars. The best thing about it is that Carfax reports are free! You can even filter results by showing used cars that have only been owned by one person, never had an accident reported, used only for personal purposes, and have service records.
The only problem is that their website has a limited number of cars listed. So you probably need to look elsewhere for your next ride.
How much does it cost to use carfax?
What if you found a great looking used car with a great price? But it doesn’t come with a free Carfax report?
The first step is to ask the dealer to provide this information to you. Most dealers already do. If a dealer doesn’t agree, then they might not want you to learn about a car’s history. I would seriously consider going to another car dealer.
If, after you demand from a dealer and they still won’t give it to you, and you still love the car, then you will need to pay for its Carfax record. Go to this link to see their current pricing. Do check the Carfax packages pricing listed below:
- 1 Carfax report costs $39.99;
- 3 reports cost $59.99; and
- 4 reports cost $99.99
So before taking out your credit card, make sure that you have done your due diligence and that you really want the car you want to check on Carfax.
To check the car’s history, you will need its VIN. Most online car marketplaces already provide this.
How to use a Carfax Report?
What will a Carfax report tell you? A lot!
When you open a Carfax Vehicle History Report, the very first thing you’ll see at the top is the summary of the report, which includes the following information:
- Accident reported (or not)
- If the car has had only 1 owner – This may be good or not depending on how the owner maintained the car.
- Service History records
- whether the car was used as rental, for business, or for personal use
- where it was last owned; and
- the last odometer reading.
If a car has had an accident, that may be enough reason to forget about it and choose a different car. But you need to do your due diligence, read the report and see if you can ascertain the severity of the accident and if the car sustained major damages.
You can typically scroll down to the Detailed History section of the Carfax report and read the details of the reported accident. In the case of this particular Toyota Prius, the accident report reads: “Accident reported Involving rear impact.”
That accident may or may not have been significant. But it happened more than 8 years ago and the Prius continued working well after that.
No matter what you read on the car’s history report, you should still get it inspected by a qualified mechanic.
Where Does Carfax Get Data about Vehicles?
Carfax gets data from several sources to build its database. It includes the following:
- USA and Canadian motor agencies
- Car Auctions, including Salvage Auctions
- Collision Repair Shops
- Auto Repair Shops
- Car Rental Companies
- Inspection Stations of States
- Extended Warranty Companies
- Fire Departments and Law Enforcement Agencies
- Car Dealerships
For a full list of their data sources and the kinds of information they gather, please visit this link: https://www.carfax.com/company/vhr-data-sources
What are the limitations of Carfax
Carfax is a wonderful tool! But it has its limitations. It gathers data from multitude of sources as listed above. For a lot of cars, that data may be enough. However, a lot of information and data may be unreported. Perhaps some drivers do repairs and service the DIY way and there is no way to capture those on any reporting database.
Be aware of the following limitations and potential problems that you may still encounter even after running a Carfax check:
- Totaled vehicles and subsequently “reconditioned” or “salvage” may not be reported as such. There is no way for Carfax to know that. Also, some States do not include negative comments on car titles.
- No centralized database exists for reporting accidents and repairs. It may be close to impossible to implement something like this.
- Carfax may or may not verify the information it gathers. The sheer number of reports it processes and generates make this a very difficult process. So it is up to the consumer to verify information and make sure that the used car they want to buy is in good condition.
- It can be expensive. Paying $39.99 for one car report is expensive! Dealers should be providing this as a a service to their customers.
To deal with these limitations, take the used car you are about to buy to a qualified mechanic. They can usually uncover problem areas of the vehicle, saving you precious time and money!
Alternatives to Carfax
Carfax is not the only company providing this kind of service. You can cross-check with other car history provider listed below:
- AutoCheck, which is owned by Experian
- VINCheck – This is a free service provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Nothing beats due diligence when it comes to buying a used car. Carfax is the most popular provider of car history report. But it is not 100% accurate. Being aware of these limitations will help you make an informed decision.
Have you had any experience with Carfax or AutoCheck? Feel free to hit the comments.