When you're looking at vehicles to buy, the seller will often provide a CARFAX report free of charge. Reports may even be taped to the inside of a car window, or their availability may be touted ("Ask us for the CARFAX report!") on signs around the car lot and on the car itself.
Around 29,000 major and minor used-car dealers use CARFAX. If a salesperson at a lot is giving you the runaround about obtaining the history report, you may consider moving along until you find a dealer who freely offers the information. For higher-end used cars, many car manufacturers have Certified Pre-Owned programs that utilize CARFAX to guarantee the car has no wrecks or problems in its history.
Of course, you can obtain your own report from the CARFAX Web site on nearly any car or light truck under the sun -- post 1981, that is. Before then, VINs weren't in standard use.
You can purchase a single CARFAX report for $29.99, or get a bulk deal of 10 reports for $34.99 or unlimited reports for $39.99. Regardless of which package you select, you have 30 days to use the purchased service.
CARFAX isn't the only place you can turn for vehicle-history reports. Other services and government resources are available, such as Experian AutoCheck, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information Systems database.
CARFAX doesn't recommend you trust a vehicle-history report for all of your car-buying needs. The company acknowledges possible lapses in records provided and advises you to thoroughly examine the car, test-drive it, have a mechanic look at it and educate yourself about the type of vehicle in question.
Obtaining your own CARFAX report may be a better option than receiving one. For one thing, it's not terribly difficult to fake a computer printout. Also, make sure the records match the car's VIN, and that the previous owner on the report is in fact who you're dealing with. There have been instances of sellers advertising VINs for different vehicles of the same year, make and model, but a careful physical comparison of the vehicle's stamped VIN and the VIN listed on the CARFAX report should ease your mind.