We talked about vehicle history reports a little over a year ago, and with the latest 20/20 news story about Carfax the topic has become hot again – link to 20/20 on Hulu. See the previous blog entry that discusses the phantom value of a vehicle with a clean Carfax – Show Me the Carfax.
I know Carfax and us dealers all say to inspect the vehicle on your own before buying. That is all great, but people are busy and don’t want to travel to see a vehicle they think is an awesome condition car at an awesome price, so that statement runs a little hollow to most consumers. Here are a few tricks of the trade for you consumers.
If you are looking at a website where some of the inventory has View the Free CARFAX Report, and some of the inventory has Get a CARFAX Record Check, odds are really high that the Carfax is ugly when it is not free. That is often a dealer obfuscating known information about the car.
FULL DISCLOSURE HERE. You will find on our website some vehicles with a manufacturer’s buyback branded title. The Autocheck is available, and if you click on the Carfax there is no free report, but instead you must pay for it. Not our fault. We have pleaded with Carfax to show this Carfax to our customers – we paid for it – but Carfax says they turned it off on branded titles because most dealers did not want it shown, and they cannot turn it on for just us. What does that tell you about our industry? Not something of which we would be proud as a member of the industry. Still, you can’t miss the information because it is on our site and available from the Autocheck report. A simple email to us and we will provide the Carfax report to you as well since we paid for the report and have it available to give you.
We will not smear any competitor in particular, but we checked out the Autochecks on a competitor’s inventory where a Carfax was NOT available for free (and others were available for free), and we found more often than not at least an accident reported, if not unibody/frame damage reported at the auction. In those cases you must absolutely ask the dealer “Show Me the Carfax” since you are reasonably confident they can get it to you for cheaper than you will get it yourself and you have high probability something important is in that report.
Don’t be fooled into thinking an Autocheck is better than a Carfax. They both have holes in their reporting. We have seen plenty of times where the Carfax report is ugly and the Autocheck report is spotless. We see many times the opposite. That provides opportunities for some dealerships to provide only an Autocheck, no Carfax, and buy vehicles with clean Autochecks and dirty Carfax reports. So while we have little love for the way Carfax has portrayed our industry in commercials, you should probably ask those Autocheck only dealers about a Carfax report or purchase the Carfax report on your own. Carfax does provide lots of quality information on vehicle history.
Carfax has an exclusive agreement with Cars.com and AutoTrader, so if you shop there and run across a car with only a Carfax, that is not our choice. You will need to come directly to our website to see the Autocheck report we are providing to consumers.
Do we have lots of vehicles with original paint and squeaky clean Carfax and Autocheck reports? Absolutely. But I have seen some minor damage on Carfax versions of the same cars and liked the minor damage car way, way better. Why? The paint work was done very well and was unnoticeable, and the interior was immaculate. And some of those perfect Carfax/Autocheck report cars do have blemishes. What was the difference many times? The Carfax accident car had a police report when the damage occurred on a public street. The perfect Carfax/Autocheck report had the same damage in a driveway of someone’s home. And even better, the Carfax accident car is $1500 cheaper – for the same car! And all because of a report.
So what is the summary of all of this?
1) Be wary of vehicles without free Carfax reports (and with no Autocheck report) on a dealer website where other vehicles do have free Carfax reports.
2) Seeing both Autocheck and Carfax reports on a vehicle does not eliminate, but does greatly reduce your odds of buying a vehicle without knowing about previous damage or accidents.
3) Even if accidents exist, don’t treat it as a Scarlet A for the car. Accident does not always mean the car was crushed. The spectrum is hugely wide.
4) Cars.com and Autotrader have locked out Autocheck from their websites due to an exclusive deal with Carfax. Autocheck is available on our website for our vehicles.
5) You can’t outsource doing a good job of shopping to third party reports. Email the dealer with questions about items of concern. We love when customers educate themselves about what they are purchasing.