Buyer Says CarFax Report Didn't Let Him Know Car Was All Messed Up

CarFax provides a useful tool for used car buyers, tipping them off about the myriad abuses their prospective rides once suffered. But Gyorgy says the service failed him, failing to report a number of modifications and indignities that voided the ride’s warranty. He writes:

I have recently been painfully reminded to read the fine print.

I purchased a used car, and heeding everyone’s advice, I checked the CarFax report prior to making the purchase. It was all shiny good stuff, even “recommended maintenance” entries were listed, nothing negative.

Then, when I visited my local dealership for some potential warranty work, the informed me that the work MAY NOT BE COVERED under the manufacturer’s warranty, as the car has a history of “abuse”, and to my request they gave me a copy of the vehicle’s service records – it was appalling. Engine replaced due to unauthorized modifications, several problems related to similar (warranty voiding) modifications, etc.

After I pointed out that none of these events were reported on CarFax, I was told that reporting to CarFax is completely voluntary.

So the conclusion is:

- positive CarFax report doesn’t mean anything

- if you get a negative CarFax report, you can accept it (although there may be even more serious problems that were NOT reported).

I don’t believe these facts are generally known, especially with the barrage of CarFax commercials that make it appear to be the “know it all” ultimate decision-making tool.

Gyorgy’s plight is, unfortunately, consistent with the findings of a Consumer Reports investigation from earlier this year (see video and article linked below). Reporters from our sister publication ordered reports on dozens of damaged vehicles from CarFax and other similar services. Many returned clean reports from CarFax and the other services. According to CR:

We found that the reports were most likely to be incorrect for vehicles that had serious damage but for various reasons were not declared a total loss. … “Salvage,” or similar branding on the vehicle title, is required by many states for vehicles with extensive damage. Wrecks can maintain clean titles if the vehicle doesn’t have collision insurance, is self-insured as with many rental and fleet vehicles, or has damage falling below the “total loss” threshold, which can vary by state.

CR’s recommendations include getting the car inspected by an independent mechanic, ordering reports from more than one service, learn the rules of your state’s Lemon Law program, and find out how to take advantage of CarFax’s buyback program. Yes, CarFax will buy back a car that it said was clean if it turns out to have a bad history — but only under very limited circumstances outlined in the mouseprint.

Reality check: How useful are used-car history reports? [Consumer Reports]