Here's What Might Be Missing From a CarFax Vehicle History Report

When shopping for a used car, don't assume a CarFax report is telling the whole story.

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CarFax reports can provide a lot of valuable information about a used car. From catastrophic events such as flood damage and airbag deployments to important details such as major repairs and the last reported mileage, a CarFax vehicle history report can quickly steer you away from the worst used cars out there.

Sometimes, however, a CarFax report only tells part of the story. Here's what might be missing.

Not Every Repair Shop Reports to CarFax

CarFax gets most of its data from state agencies, insurance companies, and certain repair shops and dealerships that do business with them. Everything else may fall through the cracks and never get reported.

Some Maintenance Records Are Missing

You could find a 30,000-mile gap between oil changes or missing repairs in a CarFax report. This doesn't mean the work wasn't done. To get a complete history, have the current owner of the vehicle help fill in those maintenance or repair gaps if you're shopping for a private-party purchase.

If you have an owner who did the maintenance, ask them simple questions such as how often did they change the oil, or what services were recently done. Good owners take good care of their cars and usually keep service records.

CarFax May Only Be Scratching the Service History Surface

CarFax reports can itemize some service history but not in the same level of detail you'll find from an actual receipt from a car repair shop. The phrase “maintenance inspection completed” on a CarFax report can mean many things.

The vehicle may have received a detailed inspection from an experienced mechanic that caught little problems before they became big ones. Or a used car could have received a cursory glance from an oil-lube technician who had a long line of cars to service that day.

Contact whoever serviced the vehicle to see if they might be willing to provide you with more details. Not all dealerships and repair shops will release information about servicing under prior ownership, but it's worth a try. CarFax often includes the repair shop's phone number, too.

That One-Owner Car May Have Many Owners

Ownership changes are noted on a CarFax when a new title or, in some cases, a correction to a current title is performed at a state titling agency. You might also find that if an owner moves to a new location or a lien is removed on a vehicle, the CarFax report can show this as an additional owner. Even then, CarFax might inadvertently label a title change as a new owner.

CarFax does allow vehicle owners to request a correction if they think an error was made.

Unreported Accidents

CarFax relies on insurers to report when a damage claim has been made following an accident. If a car was in an accident and it was not reported to an insurance company or the police, you won't see it in the CarFax report.

Ultimately, a good repair shop can help you assess a vehicle's condition if you suspect it's been in an accident.

Powertrain Announcements at Auctions Are Not Reported

Dealer-only auctions might have special announcements that highlight specific engine and transmission defects that are usually kept from CarFax. Although frame damage and other extreme issues (such as flood damage and salvage-title history) are reported when known.

CarFax History Plus Detailed Inspection Equals Better Decisions

CarFax reports can help you quickly eliminate many of the worst cars and save money and time. But it's a tool, not a crystal ball.

To find the top used cars, it's best to dive deeper into CarFax history reports. Then, if you like how the vehicle drives, have an experienced mechanic give it a detailed pre-purchase inspection.

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Steven Lang
Steven Lang is a special contributor to Capital One with nearly two decades of experience as an auto auctioneer, car dealer, and part owner of an auto auction. Some of the best-known auto publications turn to him for his expert insight. He is also the co-developer of the Long-Term Quality Index, a survey of vehicle reliability featuring over two million vehicles that have been inspected by professional mechanics.