When it comes to a car’s condition, people often mention the Carfax report. So just how does Carfax work? A Carfax report is your window into a car’s past. Like a private eye, it gleans data from insurance companies, DMVs, and even the police to tell you about a car’s background.
In the most extreme cases, it can save you from buying a lemon. That’s why we include a full free Carfax report for every car we list on Shift so customers know exactly what they’re getting (and what they’re not).
How does Carfax actually work?
A Carfax report is essentially a data snapshot of a number of different available data records. It gathers information from police departments, insurance companies, DMVs, and auction houses to piece together a history on nearly every car out there. Their data-gathering team in Virginia adds about 3.5 million records a day, with a compiled total of about 15 billion records.
How does Carfax help in buying a used car?
The records included in a Carfax report tell you things you wouldn’t know by just going for a test drive or having a mechanic inspect the car (things you should also do, by the way). A Carfax report is a little like a crystal ball that can give you a picture of a car’s past, such as:
- Odometer readings and repair history
- Number of past owners
- Any accidents reported by DMVs, insurance companies, or police departments
- Whether the car’s a lemon or been salvaged or junked
- Whether a car was ever used as a fleet vehicle, autos used by businesses and often subject to lots of abuse
- Lien and repossession history
- Emission inspection statuses
- Manufacturer recalls and buybacks
All of this info lets you avoid getting scammed and helps you make a more informed decision about the car you’re about to buy.
Where does all that data come from?
Carfax must have an army of data crawlers trolling the internet because the company culls data from about 92,000 sources—everything from motor vehicle agencies, to many police and fire departments, collision repair facilities, and auto auctions (Shift uploads all of our diagnostic and repair data to Carfax, too!)
Here’s their list of all of the sources:
- Fire departments
- Law enforcement agencies U.S. motor vehicle agencies
- Canadian provincial motor vehicle agencies
- Auto auctions and salvage auctions
- Collision repair facilities
- Service/maintenance facilities
- Insurance companies
- Automotive recyclers
- Rental/fleet vehicle companies
- State inspection stations
- Extended warranty companies
- Car dealerships Import/export companies
How much does Carfax cost?
Carfax has a three-tiered pricing model. If you’re going to test drive more than one car, and you probably will, you might want to get the second option, which provides five reports.
- MyCarfax: A free app that includes provides info on maintenance and recalls for vehicles
, as well as estimate repair costs and help finding local repair services. Doesn’t include Vehicle History Reports.
- 1 Carfax Report: $39.99
- 5 Reports: $59.99 (valid for 60 days)
- Unlimited Reports for 60 days: $69.99 gets you unlimited by searching by license plate
- Shift: Free. Zip. Zilch.
At the end of the day, the Carfax report is one of the most important pieces of documentation you can get on a used car, so be sure to get one when you go shopping.