What does CARFAX leave out?
August 17, 2005 7:38 PM   Subscribe

I've used Carfax before to find out the repair history of a car. But I'm curious about what slips underneath their radar. Where do they get their information? Do repair shops have to report all repairs to some central authority? Or are only major events--those involving insurance claims and/or police reports--recorded?
posted by wheat to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
My car's been in two major accidents that were each very close to totalling it and it comes up clean in Carfax.
posted by smackfu at 7:58 PM on August 17, 2005

I ran a carfax on a used 1993 Mitsubishi Eclipse that came up completely clean. The car had very few miles and only 2 owners showed up on the report. I had it for two weeks and the transmission fell out of the bottom. Turns out the car was in a serious accident. Slightly bent frame and the transmission case had broken in half as had the mounts on the frame of the car, someone had tried to wield it back together. The mechanic couldn't believe it hadn't been totaled out from that kind of impact. Needless to say I lost thousands of dollars.

I suggest putting the money towards having a good mechanic take a look at it before hand. They can almost always tell if a car has been in an accident by the way things line up and looking for overspray on the door seals and other give aways.
posted by monsta coty scott at 8:22 PM on August 17, 2005

One time a friend of mine subscribed to carfax, and I ran a check on my car just for kicks. No record of it having been stolen once 3 years earlier -- even though I made a police report and everything. Fortunately for the next owner, there was no damage from that (they found it and I got it back, obviously).
posted by rkent at 10:58 PM on August 17, 2005

I can echo the previous respondants. My car was in a major accident requiring many thousands of dollars to rebuild the body and replace some engine parts. It was on the verge of being totalled. I checked it in carfax a few months after the repairs were done, and it there was no record of an accident. I'm not sure where they get their data, but it's far from a comprehensive history of a vehicle.
posted by blue mustard at 5:22 AM on August 18, 2005

Or are only major events--those involving insurance claims and/or police reports--recorded?

It actually varies from state to state; for instance, in New York, only accidents that involve the police and official accident reports go on the VIN's history. It's this way for a number of states. A lot of people would rather avoid the hassle of higher insurance premiums, and settle repair costs outside the "official" route.

If you're thinking about purchasing a used car, CARFAX is merely a way of immediately weeding out bad candidates, not confirming good ones. For that, you have to get under the hood (and under the car, for that matter), or have someone do it for you.

Also, an aside: not all "totalled" cars are bad deals. For instance, cars that have been involved with flooding are redmarked on their VIN, and avoided like the plague. But if the flooding is fresh water (not salt water, like you might get during a hurricane), and the car is refurbed, you can actually get some good deals. Everyone knows about CARFAX these days, so dealers have a hard time unloading these cars... you can bargain them down to peanuts on the dollar (just make sure you check it over, or have a mechanic do it if you're a shade-tree'r).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:53 AM on August 18, 2005

Carfax is not repair history, it's a (sometimes partial as some have mentioned) accident reporting history. If I slam my car into a pilon somewhere and get it towed to a shop without ever getting a citation for it from the cops it's not going to show. Or any of a billion other circumstances. Their webpage shows where they get their info.

As Civil Disobedient says, you need to do a proper vetting of the car, not just a carfax report. The Car Talk guys have a superb booklet called How to Buy a Great Used Car which does a good job of laying out what to look for and how to get a mechanic to check it for you. You can buy their whole set here (and they're all three good, particularly for the non-car afficianado) or mail away for just the one.

You don't need the booklet, tho - most competent mechanics will look over a car before you buy it for a reasonable fee. Just tell the seller you're serious but want it looked over and if you don't buy it they can have whatever report the mechanic gives you. Anyone unwilling to let you do that isn't someone you want to buy from.
posted by phearlez at 8:15 AM on August 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

The most reliable bit of Carfax is title history. If the car's been totaled, it will likely have been sold at auction with a "salvage title" or a "rebuild title." In areas that have recently had a flood, this often means the car has actually been submerged in water and then repaired afterward, which you definitely want to know. However, anything short of actual vehicle totaling may or may not appear.
posted by kindall at 11:59 AM on August 18, 2005

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