Verifying the shifty things people do to their cars is a tricky business, and AutoCheck knows it. Not every accident is reported, for a variety of reasons. Why report a little scraped paint and a dinged fender if you can tap out the bumps and spot-repair the paint? Why report a landscaping truck backing nearly over your hood if your brother can replace the front end at his shop after hours? He's got paint that will mostly match if you look at it under one of those sodium-yellow streetlamps. No biggie.
Consumer Reports did a check on AutoCheck and CarFax and found they both did a reasonably good job of reporting exactly what they promised -- but there were a few issues. They compared clean reports with pictures of the same cars on auction Web sites and found cars crumpled beyond recognition in some cases. "Wrecks can maintain clean titles if the vehicle doesn't have collision insurance, is self-insured as with many rental and fleet vehicles, or has damage falling below the 'total loss' threshold, which can vary by state," according to the report [source: Consumer Reports].
Despite that, Consumer Reports did recommend using automotive history reports, as well as a few other lesser-known sources, for checking out a car's sordid past:
There's also no way for you, dear consumer, to verify those happy green checkmarks on an AutoCheck report. However, you can -- and absolutely everyone recommends this, including Lynn Kator at AutoCheck -- take any used car you're seriously considering buying for an inspection by a professional.
Author's Note: How AutoCheck Works
I have a used car sitting in my driveway right now, and I'll admit, I have run exactly zero vehicle history checks in my life. Ever. Not a one, for any car I have ever purchased. Now that I think about it, I personally have never owned a brand-new vehicle. They have all been used. (My husband has a new-off-the-showroom-floor vehicle. He's so fancy.)
Maybe I trusted my experience as an automotive journalist; maybe I was a foolhardy idiot. They're kind of the same thing. But I've been lucky; the only disaster of a used car was the first one I ever bought, and I think that's unavoidable. I doubt anyone in college has ever made a sound vehicle-purchasing decision in the history of the automobile.
I'm in love with my current car, so the chances of my using AutoCheck or the like is pretty slim. By the time I'm ready to buy again, there will be holograms available for test driving. Holograms of flying cars. I'm sure of it.
- AutoCheck. "FAQ about AutoCheck Score." (Oct. 16, 2012) http://www.autocheck.com/consumers/pdf/AutoCheck_FAQ.pdf
- AutoCheck. "The AutoCheck Advantage." (Oct. 16, 2012) http://www.autocheck.com/consumers/pdf/AutoCheck_Advantage.pdf
- Consumer Reports. "Don't Rely on Used-Car-History Reports." June 2009. (Oct. 16, 2012) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/05/don-t-rely-on-used-car-history-reports/index.htm
- Consumer Reports. "Beware the Flood of Flood Cars." April 2012. (Oct. 16, 2012) http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/09/beware-the-flood-of-flood-cars/index.htm
- Jensen, Christopher. "EBay Adds Car History Reports." The New York Times. Nov. 15, 2009. (Oct. 16, 2012) http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE1D7113CF936A25752C1A96F9C8B63
- Kator, Lynn. Senior director of marketing at Experian Automotive. Telephone interview conducted on Oct. 22, 2012.
- Lang, Steven. "Hammer Time: CarFax vs. AutoCheck." The Truth About Cars. Oct. 5, 2010. (Oct. 16, 2012) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/hammer-time-carfax-vs-autocheck/