What Does Carfax Not Tell You?

Lebowski carfax

The last time we wrote about Carfax, we covered what it includes and why it’s a crucial part of making an informed purchase. Although Carfax reports are a great insight into vehicle history, they don’t tell us everything. It’s important to also know what they may not cover.

1. Not all accidents are necessarily reported

Two drivers get in a crash and there’s damage to the cars. Call the insurance company, right? Not always. For various reasons, some crashes are settled between the drivers themselves with DIY fixes or at smaller garages that may have fewer scruples about officially reporting the repair. When this happens, there’s a chance that Carfax is none the wiser about the incident at all.

2. Not all insurance companies and DMVs contribute data to Carfax

Carfax is only as accurate as its data sources, and not all DMVs and insurance companies contribute their data. Carfax has 92,000 or so sources of vehicle information, but it’s not omniscient.

For example, a history report may list a car as accident-free, but if a collision was fixed by an insurance company that doesn’t contribute data to Carfax, it won’t show up in the report. The same is true if the owner of the car never reported it to the insurance company. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. The good news is, the vast majority of what’s out there is indeed captured, so the chances of missing something aren’t very high.

3. Lemon law buybacks are occasionally not reported

Cars are complex pieces of machinery. Sometimes, something in the car’s mechanics just ain’t right and it’s constantly plagued with problems as a result. That’s a lemon. To protect car buyers from purchasing lemons, states have a set of laws called Lemon laws.

These laws make it possible for a buyer to return a non-performing car to the manufacturer. When this happens, that car is considered to be a “lemon law buyback”. In most states, this is required to be put on the title. In some states, however, there is a loophole to this rule. Instead of labeling a car a lemon law buyback, cars in those states are labeled “manufacturer vehicle, sold at auction.”

It’s a trade secret that’s well understood among sophisticated car buyers and dealerships know that you now also know: when a Carfax report labels a car “manufacturer vehicle, sold at auction,” it very well may be a lemon. The good news is, we’ll never list these cars, so you can browse Shift with confidence.

4. Carfax may not know about very recent accidents

Sometimes, people will try to sell a car right after an accident has occurred. That way, they get rid of it before it’s appeared on Carfax and the buyer might never know. This is more common when the damage isn’t obvious, such as undercarriage damage. At Shift, we perform a thorough 200-point inspection so that you’ll always be informed about hard-to-spot damage.

Be a diligent buyer

As Carfax themselves put it: Carfax should be seen as one tool in the buyer’s fact-finding toolkit, not the only one. Make sure you take a comprehensive test-drive and have the car checked out by a mechanic. If you’re looking for high-quality cars where the degree of mystery is minimized, browse our selection of Shift Certified cars near you.

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