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CARFAX History Reports Explained

CARFAX History Reports Explained

Buying a used car can be one of the most stressful purchases. Unlike a new vehicle with full warranty coverage, you never quite know what you’re going to get with a pre-owned model. Used cars come with risks – everything from hidden mechanical issues to accident damage history. As a buyer, you want to kick the tires thoroughly before committing your hard-earned money.

This is where vehicle history reports from companies like Carfax provide immense value. With a comprehensive Carfax report, you gain insights into a used car’s past to make a smarter, more informed buying decision. I’ve relied on these reports countless times over the years, both personally and professionally, to avoid purchasing used cars with serious undisclosed problems.

In this complete guide, we’ll uncover everything you need to know about Carfax. You’ll learn what’s included in a report, how the information is collected, limitations to be aware of, and tips for getting the most out of Carfax when buying or selling a used vehicle. Let’s get started!

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What is Included in a Carfax Report

A Carfax vehicle history report contains a wealth of details on a used car’s background. Here are the key pieces of information included in every report:


Ownership History

The ownership history shows how many previous owners a vehicle has had along with the type of owners – whether personal, fleet, rental, lease etc. Knowing the number of owners can indicate how well cared for a car has been.


Accident and Damage History

Any accidents reported to Carfax are listed, including details on severity, airbag deployment, and location of impact. Frame/structural damage and odometer rollbacks due to accidents are also flagged. This helps identify cars that have been in major collisions.


Title Information

The title history reveals any reported odometer tampering, title washing, salvage/junk history, and lien records. This can uncover fraudulent activities or severe prior damage.


Maintenance Records

The report lists any verifiable maintenance and service history at dealerships and repair shops. This offers proof of proper car care and routine maintenance.


Open Recalls

All outstanding safety recalls are listed so owners can get issues addressed. Unfixed recalls can pose serious risks.

In total, a Carfax report creates a detailed vehicle biography that helps buyers make an informed decision. It highlights any issues in a used car’s past that could impact condition, safety, and value.


How Does Carfax Collect Vehicle Information?

Carfax has access to an extensive network of data sources across North America to compile their vehicle history reports. This includes over 34,000 sources that regularly provide updated information to Carfax.

Some examples of the types of data Carfax receives:


  • Auto service centers, body shops, car dealerships, and repair shops submit vehicle service and collision repair records.
  • Police departments and tow/impound yards provide accident reports.
  • Provincial Registeries provide title, registration, and odometer data.
  • Insurance companies submit records on claims filed for accidents, weather events, or thefts.

With this vast network feeding data from across the US and Canada, Carfax is able to build a comprehensive view of a vehicle’s past and paint a clearer picture for used car buyers.


Title and Registration Checks

A key part of any Carfax report is confirming the accuracy of a vehicle’s title, registration, and odometer. Carfax cross-references records from every state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to identify potential red flags:


Salvage/Total Loss History – Carfax checks if a total loss or salvage title is on record, which indicates the car was deemed a complete loss by an insurance company after an accident or natural disaster.


Odometer investigations – Carfax uses sophisticated analytics to detect odometer rollbacks and broken odometers by comparing readings over time.


Title Washing – Carfax screens for signs of title washing, where a salvaged vehicle gets a “clean” title from a different state to hide its real condition.


Lien Records – Carfax confirms if any liens or loans are still active on the car’s title that need to be cleared before sale.


Lease & Rental History – Carfax reports can reveal if a car was previously used as a leased or rental vehicle.


By aggregating data across jurisdictions and departments, Carfax provides a comprehensive view of any title inconsistencies or fraud that buyers should be aware of.


Recall Checks

One important element of a CARFAX report is checking for any open safety recalls on a vehicle that need to be addressed. When an automaker identifies a defect that could compromise safety, they issue a recall notice to alert owners to bring their vehicles in for free repairs. However, not all owners stay on top of getting recall work completed in a timely manner.

This can pose a risk for used car buyers, as the CARFAX report will indicate if the current owner of a vehicle has left any manufacturer recalls open. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, every year hundreds of people are killed and thousands are injured due to unfixed recalled auto parts. So it’s vital that buyers are aware of any outstanding recalls before purchasing a used car.

CARFAX has access to recall data for all safety campaigns issued over the last 15 years. They check AutoCheck Vehicle History Reports and note any recalls that still need to be addressed. This information comes from the manufacturer directly, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s recall database.

If an open recall appears on a CARFAX report, buyers should confirm with the seller exactly what recall work needs to be completed. In some cases, the seller may have addressed the recall but the information was not reported to CARFAX. Test driving the vehicle and having a mechanic inspect it will also help determine if recall repairs are still needed.


Ownership History

One of the most useful parts of a Carfax report is the ownership history, which details how many previous owners a vehicle has had. This section will list whether the car was owned by an individual, a business fleet, or was part of a rental or lease fleet.

Knowing how many previous owners a car has had can give you insights into how well it was cared for. Generally, fewer owners indicates the car was likely kept longer by each owner rather than being passed around frequently. Personal owners also tend to maintain vehicles better than fleet or rental cars that see heavy use by multiple drivers.

You can also spot gaps in ownership that might raise questions. For example, a car with ownership gaps could indicate it was sitting unused for periods of time. Or it may have been sold at auctions multiple times without being registered under new owners.

By examining the ownership history in a Carfax report, you gain perspective into how a used car was driven and maintained over its lifetime. This helps assess the risk of purchasing a used vehicle and whether it aligns with the seller’s claims.


Accident and Damage Details

One of the most important pieces of information a CARFAX report provides is the accident and damage history of the vehicle. For any reported accidents, CARFAX includes details such as:


  • The date and location of the accident
  • The severity of the impact based on a scale from minor to severe
  • What components were damaged – airbags, frame, etc.
  • Estimated repair costs
  • Structural damage assessments
  • Odometer reading at the time of the accident


With this data, you can better determine the condition of the vehicle and whether repairs were properly done. For example, major structural damage that wasn’t properly fixed could lead to issues down the road. Airbag deployments also provide insight into the force of an impact. Having the odometer reading helps you pinpoint when in the vehicle’s lifespan an accident occurred.

While no vehicle history report captures every single accident, CARFAX sources from thousands of providers to uncover as many as possible. This includes police reports, state DMVs, insurance claims, and auto body shops. However, minor accidents often go unreported. So the CARFAX details provide invaluable information, but visual inspections and driving tests are still recommended.


Service and Repair Records

One of the most useful parts of a Carfax report is the detailed service and repair history that it provides. When a used car is brought into a service center, dealership, or auto repair shop, they have the option to submit records of that visit to Carfax. This includes scheduled maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations. It also includes major repairs like engine or transmission work. Having this full picture of service history helps determine how well the previous owner took care of the vehicle.

For example, if you see consistent oil changes every 5,000 miles, it’s a good sign the owner followed the recommended maintenance schedule. Or if you notice a major engine component was replaced at 100,000 miles, it gives you confidence that critical repair was performed. On the other hand, long gaps without any service records could be a red flag of neglect. The Carfax service history helps take the guesswork out of assessing how well a used car was maintained.

When reviewing the maintenance records, you’ll want to look for regular intervals that match the manufacturer recommendations. This varies by the make, model, and year of the vehicle. You’ll also want to look at major work like transmission flushes, timing belt replacements, engine repairs and take note of higher mileage when they occurred. While no car will have perfect service records, the Carfax maintenance history is an invaluable resource in getting a complete picture of how a used car was cared for.


Location and Usage History

A key part of any Carfax report is the vehicle’s location history showing where it has been registered and driven over its lifetime. This provides valuable clues into how the vehicle has potentially been used and what environmental conditions it has been exposed to.

The location history highlights all the states, provinces, and regions where the vehicle has been registered. Knowing where a used car has spent most of its life can indicate the climate it has endured – from cold, snowy winters causing rust, to hot desert climates taxing the engine and transmission.

Seeing a car that has mainly been registered in northern U.S. states or Canadian provinces helps uncover potential rust and corrosion issues. Whereas a car spending its life in Arizona will have far less exposure to snow, road salt, and other winter conditions that can shorten a vehicle’s usable lifespan.

Location history also hints at how the vehicle has been used – whether for personal transportation or for business/commercial purposes. A car registered in an urban, metropolitan area is more likely to have been someone’s daily driver for commuting and personal trips. Whereas a vehicle spending time in rural areas may have been used for commercial purposes like deliveries, transportation, farming, or other business uses.

Paying attention to the geographic movement of a used vehicle provides one more clue to create a complete history before making a buying decision.


CARFAX vs. AutoCheck Comparison

When it comes to vehicle history reports, Carfax and AutoCheck are the two dominant players in the market. While both provide valuable information on a used car’s background, there are some key differences between the two services.

Carfax has a slight edge when it comes to the number of data sources it compiles reports from. Carfax gathers information from over 100,000 sources across North America, while AutoCheck uses around 50,000. This gives Carfax a broader picture of a vehicle’s history, with more service records, accident reports and registration details.

However, AutoCheck may include more information on certain types of damage. For example, it includes auction announcements about frame or flood damage which Carfax does not cover. So for a very complete damage history, running both reports is recommended.

As for cost, a single Carfax report will run you $39.99 while a single AutoCheck report is $24.99. AutoCheck tends to be the more budget-friendly option, especially if you’re running multiple reports when comparing vehicles.

Overall, Carfax has more comprehensive data while AutoCheck costs less. For the most thorough information, the ideal solution is to use both services. But if choosing only one, Carfax offers a slight edge in report detail and depth of information sources.


Limitations of Carfax Reports

While Carfax has become an invaluable resource for used car buyers, it’s important to understand the limitations of relying solely on their vehicle history reports.

One key limitation is that not all service and accident records get reported to Carfax. For example, small independent repair shops and mechanics may not regularly submit their records into the Carfax system. Major collisions are more likely to be in the Carfax report, but minor fender-benders often go unreported and won’t show up.

There can also be significant lag times in data reporting. For example, details on a recent accident may take months to show up in the Carfax database, since the information has to flow from local authorities to DMVs and finally to Carfax. So the Carfax report will provide historical data, but can miss very recent events.

Additionally, Carfax reports will not catch all instances of fraud, such as title washing and odometer rollbacks. Sophisticated vehicle history scrubbing techniques can sometimes slip through the cracks. So while Carfax has good fraud detection, it doesn’t catch 100% of all cases.

The bottom line is that while Carfax reports provide extremely useful background on a used vehicle, they do not tell the whole story. Savvy used car buyers will take limitations into account and perform additional diligence before making a purchase.


Complementary Checks to Do

While Carfax provides extensive vehicle history details, there are other important checks to perform when buying a used car beyond just relying on the Carfax report:


Vehicle Inspection by a Mechanic

Have a mechanic you trust do a pre-purchase inspection of the vehicle. They can spot issues that may not appear in the Carfax, like engine problems, worn parts, leaks, etc. A thorough inspection is the best way to assess the current mechanical condition.


Ask the Seller for Maintenance Records

Request from the seller any receipts for work done on the vehicle. Oil changes, major repairs and maintenance items may not always get reported to Carfax. Reviewing maintenance logs can give you a fuller picture of how well the vehicle was cared for.


Confirm Details with the Seller

Go through the Carfax report with the seller and have them confirm any previous accidents, major repairs, or other issues. See if their recollection matches what Carfax shows – any inconsistencies could be a red flag of something undisclosed.


Check Additional Vehicle History Sources

Run an AutoCheck report in addition to Carfax, as they use different sources for collecting vehicle data. Between the two reports, you’ll maximize the history details gathered to make the most informed decision.


Cost of Carfax Reports

A single Carfax report typically costs around $40 when purchased directly from the Carfax website. However, there are ways to get discounted or even free reports in certain situations.

Carfax offers package options for multiple reports at reduced per-report pricing. For example, the 3-report package costs $99 total, working out to $33 per report. They also offer unlimited reports for a monthly subscription fee.

Many car dealerships provide free Carfax reports on their used vehicle listings. This allows car shoppers to view the Carfax history before visiting the lot. Dealers often absorb the Carfax fee as a way to build trust and transparency with customers.

Buying a used car from a private seller is one case where you’ll likely need to purchase the Carfax report yourself. Having the report in hand before negotiating or making an offer is advised.

On average, expect to spend around $40-60 to obtain a Carfax report from most dealerships on a used car you’re interested in buying. Costs may be slightly higher when purchased individually online.


Getting Carfax When Buying Used

When it comes to buying a used vehicle, the earlier you can get a Carfax report in the shopping process, the better. Having the vehicle history information upfront allows you to compare the background of different vehicles you may be considering.

Many dealerships and private sellers will advertise that a free Carfax report is available on a particular used car listing. Take advantage of getting this report early on so you can factor it into your decision making.

If a Carfax report is not advertised, you should request one from the seller once you’ve identified some potential vehicles to purchase. Any reputable dealer will be happy to provide the Carfax report upon request during the shopping stage.

Having the Carfax report in hand early in the negotiation process also gives you an informational advantage. You may be able to point out items in the vehicle history like accidents, irregular maintenance records, or excessive owners as bargaining points on the price if the seller was not upfront about them.

While no vehicle history report is perfect, Carfax provides an excellent starting point to learn about a used car’s past. Use it as one key piece of information, along with test drives, mechanic inspections, and asking the seller direct questions.


Using Carfax to Sell a Used Car

Having a Carfax report can be extremely valuable when selling a used vehicle privately or to a dealer. The report allows you to clearly demonstrate the car’s history to potential buyers, helping instill confidence and trust that there are no hidden issues.

Being able to showcase maintenance records, accident details, number of previous owners and more differentiates your car from others for sale without verifiable histories. Buyers feel more secure knowing your vehicle’s background is transparent.

Additionally, the Carfax report assists in accurately pricing your car based on its condition. You can validate that required services were performed and highlight a lack of previous damage to justify a higher asking price. Any minor accidents on the report would need to be factored into a lower valuation.

Overall, having the Carfax report readily available for buyers gives you a major advantage over those trying to sell a used car without proper documentation of its background. Your car will appear far more attractive to prospective buyers who can verify its history themselves.


CARFAX for Insurance Claims

Insurance companies have become major users of Carfax reports to assist in the claims process. Adjusters routinely pull Carfax vehicle history reports when assessing accident damage on policyholder vehicles.

The Carfax report allows the claims adjuster to verify any previous damage that may have occurred. This helps them determine if existing damage is tied to a prior incident or the current claim being filed.

Comparing the pre-loss condition based on the Carfax allows for more accurate estimates. There may be previous damage that was left unrepaired and needs to be addressed. Or conversely, prior repairs may have already restored certain parts, avoiding overlap in the new estimate.

For total loss valuations, the Carfax report provides critical details on prior condition that factor into the vehicle’s worth. A car that had previous body work done or major mechanical repairs will be valued lower than a clean history example of that same make/model.

Insurance companies also rely on Carfax to detect instances where policyholders fail to disclose previous damage. If the Carfax shows an accident, but it was not mentioned during the claims process, this raises red flags. The insurer may then deny certain repairs or pursue fraud investigation against the policyholder.

While Carfax has limitations, it is considered a standard tool for insurance adjusters during the claims process. The vehicle history report allows for more precise estimates, valuations, and fraud detection.


CARFAX for Auto Service

CARFAX vehicle history reports provide tremendous value to auto service shops by giving technicians comprehensive maintenance and repair records for every car. With detailed knowledge of past work performed, shops can make more accurate recommendations for required services. They can inform customers of potential issues and necessary repairs based on the full timeline of vehicle records from CARFAX. This helps build trust and rapport with patrons when technicians demonstrate in-depth understanding of a car’s background.

Shops also reduce liability risks when vehicle histories highlight outstanding recalls or past collision repairs that may impact current work. Technicians can service cars more efficiently with CARFAX records detailing parts replaced, fluids changed, and previous diagnostic findings. This assists in targeting the root causes of problems faster. CARFAX reports help shops provide superior customer service through tailored recommendations grounded in a vehicle’s unique history versus generic assumptions. Customers appreciate the individualized attention made possible by comprehensive CARFAX data at their fingertips.



In conclusion, Carfax vehicle history reports can provide used car buyers with valuable insights into a vehicle’s background. The reports compile data from thousands of sources across North America to uncover details on past owners, accidents, service records, open recalls and more. While no single report can paint a complete picture, Carfax gives buyers a robust starting point to make an informed decision.

Some key strengths of Carfax are its national reach in data collection and easy-to-read format summarizing a car’s history. However, there are limitations to be aware of – not all service and accident records get reported, especially from small independent shops. For a comprehensive review, Carfax should be combined with other diligence like vehicle inspections, maintenance log reviews and asking the seller detailed questions.

Used wisely as one piece of the buying process, Carfax can help buyers avoid purchasing used cars with undisclosed issues. With millions of reports provided annually, Carfax has become a trusted household name. By knowing how to best utilize Carfax reports, buyers can shop for used cars with greater awareness and confidence.


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Questions About CARFAX History Reports

Carfax is a company that provides vehicle history reports to consumers and businesses in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. Their reports contain information on a specific vehicle’s ownership, accident history, lien records, service and repair history, and more.

A Carfax report for a Canadian vehicle provides detailed information from multiple sources across the country, including:


– Accident and damage records from all Canadian provinces

– Odometer readings and odometer issues if identified

– Import records if the vehicle was imported into Canada

– Lienholder information if there is an outstanding loan on the vehicle

– Verified ownership history with number of previous owners

– Service and repair history from thousands of Canadian shops

– Manufacturer safety recalls and service campaigns

– Stolen vehicle checks from all provinces


So in short, a Carfax report gives Canadian used car buyers extensive insight into a vehicle’s condition, history, and value before purchase.

Carfax offers two options for Canadian vehicle history reports:


  1. Single Report: $59.99 CAD
  2. 5 Report Bundle: $99.99 CAD (averages to $20 per report)


The single report allows you to access everything in Carfax’s database on one vehicle. The 5 report bundle is recommended for those shopping multiple used vehicles.


There are options for unlimited reports through third-party sites as well. Overall Carfax pricing is very reasonable, especially considering the value provided.

Many Canadian used car dealerships and private sellers provide free Carfax reports to potential buyers. This allows them to showcase a vehicle’s clean history.


Additionally, Carfax offers a free preview report that provides basic information without all details that the paid version contains.


While free Carfax reports provide helpful information, purchasing your own full report is recommended to get the complete vehicle history before buying.

Carfax has extensive accident and damage data for vehicles in Canada. However, there can still be gaps:


– Minor accidents may go unreported if paid for out-of-pocket

– Very recent accidents may not yet be in the database

– Accidents before a vehicle’s model year 1981 are not included


So while Carfax captures the large majority of incidents, a full professional inspection is still recommended in addition to the Carfax report.

Unfortunately Carfax does not offer free full reports in Canada outside of select dealer and seller promotions.


However, you can access a limited preview report to get basic details on a vehicle. This includes:


– Current odometer reading

– Number of records found

– Title information

– Last reported odometer reading


While not as comprehensive as the paid report, this can give you an initial snapshot before deciding to purchase the full Carfax report.

Carfax obtains accident, registration, and other vehicle data from every Canadian province and territory, including:


– British Columbia

– Alberta

– Saskatchewan

– Manitoba

– Ontario

– Quebec

– New Brunswick

– Nova Scotia

– Prince Edward Island

– Newfoundland and Labrador

– Yukon

– Northwest Territories

– Nunavut


So their reports provide complete Canada-wide coverage.

Carproof and Carfax offer very similar vehicle history reports in Canada. However, they get their vehicle data from different sources.


Carfax tends to have more service and repair records, while Carproof obtains more data from provincial motor vehicle agencies.


For the most complete history, many recommend running both a Carfax and Carproof report when shopping Canadian used vehicles.

The best way is to purchase both a Carfax and Carproof report for the vehicle. Between both databases, they capture the large majority of accidents across Canada.


Additionally, a professional inspection from a trusted mechanic can identify repairs and damage that may indicate a previous collision.


Reviewing the free Carfax and Carproof previews can also give you an initial look for accidents or other issues.

Yes, a Carfax report will list all reported oil changes and other maintenance procedures performed at participating service centres across Canada.


This maintenance history is very valuable, as it indicates how well a previous owner took care of the vehicle.


Gaps in service history or irregular oil changes can be red flags for more significant mechanical issues.

Yes, all you need is the 17-character Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to pull a Carfax report on any vehicle.


The VIN allows Carfax to quickly cross-reference their database to compile the full history report.


VINs can easily be found on the driver’s side dashboard, vehicle registration, and insurance documents.


So with just the VIN handy, you can access a Carfax vehicle history report in just minutes.

When reviewing a Carfax report on a Canadian used vehicle purchase, watch for:


– Major accident history including airbag deployment or structural damage

– High annual mileage averages that may indicate excessive wear

– Past use as a rental vehicle or commercial fleet vehicle

– Signs of odometer rollback or issues

– Lots of owners over a short time period

– Large gaps in ownership and service history


Multiple issues like these can highlight potential problems with a vehicle. A clean Carfax report is always most ideal.

Yes. Carfax has extensive databases of stolen vehicle records from every region of Canada.


If a vehicle has been marked stolen in any province, it will appear on the Carfax report. This includes dates when it was stolen and recovered.


Checking for stolen vehicle flags is very important, as stolen cars can have underlying issues hidden beneath the surface after being recovered.

Typical maintenance services that can appear on a Carfax report for a Canadian vehicle include:


– Oil changes

– Filter replacements like air, fuel, and cabin filters

– Tire rotations

– Brake pad, rotor, and caliper servicing

– Wheel alignments

– Transmission flushes

– Coolant flushes

– Spark plug replacements

– Emissions tests

– And much more


The full spectrum of repairs and maintenance from thousands of Canadian shops is included.

For vehicles originally sold in Canada, Carfax reports often include extra specifics tailored to the Canadian market, such as:


– Original sale date and first owner in Canada

– Total ownership tenure in Canada

– Accident and damage specifics from Canadian provinces

– Canadian market trim levels and option codes

– Service procedures, parts, and fluids common in Canada

– Translation of French service records into English


This Canadian-focused data provides greater relevance and value.

If you purchase a Carfax report for a Canadian vehicle and believe it contains incorrect or incomplete information, you can contact Carfax customer service to potentially have it updated.


Documentation proving details like accident repairs or maintenance services may need to be provided to validate your claims.


Carfax relies on consumer feedback to improve their reports. So reporting inaccuracies is important for more reliable reports in the future.

Unfortunately Carfax does not offer returns or refunds on their Canadian vehicle history reports under any circumstance.


They consider the report a final sale once generated, so double check the VIN input before purchase. Make sure the report is for the correct vehicle.


However, if their database returns no records found for entered VIN, Carfax will refund the price of the report.

Most experts recommend purchasing both a Carfax and Carproof report when shopping for any used vehicle in Canada.


While they overlap in some areas, each report has some exclusive details the other may lack – providing more complete insights when combined.


Spending around $100-120 for peace of mind is worthwhile before investing thousands in a used car.


So both Carfax and Carproof should be used together for the ideal vehicle history profile.

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