Reader Question: Carfax?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Antilles asks: What are your thoughts on Carfax reports? I’m fortunate that I have a brother in law that is a mechanic for a Honda dealership and can have him tag along when I go used car shopping. However, there are times he isn’t available. Can I trust the Carfax reports most dealers give out on used cars to be accurate regarding the maintenance and accident history? Whatever i end up getting I’m hoping to pass on to my 12 year old in 5 or 6 years when he gets his license.

My reply: Consider Carfax akin to popping the hood and checking the oil level on the dipstick. It cannot hurt and it’s probably a good idea. The small cost – about $25 per report the last time I checked – is worth it given what it might tell you about the car you’re considering.

However . . .

Carfax is not omniscient and should not be relied upon as solely indicative of the car’s condition/life history anymore than you’d consider clean oil at the proper fill level on the dipstick an indication that the car had been well-maintained. It is a good sign, of course – but you’ll want to check more (and deeper).

Titles can be washed; odometers rolled back. Accident damage hidden. Carfax does not always catch these. And even if the title is clean and there’s no accident damage as well as documented history of maintenance “per the book,” it does not mean the car wasn’t driven hard or abusively. It just means it was maintained per the book. Which is certainly good. But it isn’t everything.

The best way to reduce the odds of buying someone else’s problem is to have the car physically checked out by a mechanic you trust prior to purchase. That plus the Carfax is the ticket to a purchase you’ll be happy you made!

. . .

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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  1. My take on the greatest thing Carfax has, is that it shows where in the country the car has been. Used car lots buy their cars wholesale at auction (like Adessa) and so they wind up everywhere. I live in the mid Atlantic and it was unreal how cars from all over the snow belt and rust belt ended up here in PRoVA! Just for fun, I would google used cars in southern states and found that at least a plurality of those also came from rust areas! It was unbelievable. This was one of the reasons I punted and ended up getting a brand new car.