CARFAX allows customers to search vehicle histories using each car's "fingerprint" -- the vehicle identification number (VIN) that is printed and stamped on various parts of your vehicle. It's also listed on a car's title, inspections records and insurance policies. Your vehicle's VIN has been with it since the beginning, and like your credit history, a look into its recorded past can reveal some dark episodes.
CARFAX reports include any available information relating to:
- Previous wrecks or damage to the car, and whether or not the airbags have been deployed
- Odometer records to guarantee the advertised mileage of a vehicle
- Title issues, such as DMV-branding of a title due to flooding, fire or salvage
- Lemon status -- cars that have been recalled or repurchased by dealers due to major problems
- A history of previous owners, allowing you to see the total number of owners, the length of ownership, and whether the vehicle was used as a rental or corporate car
- Service and maintenance records, potentially including everything from oil changes to major engine work
- Warranty information, letting you know if your vehicle may still be under dealer warranty
- General information and rankings for selected make and model, such as crash-test results, safety recalls and reliability ratings
Where does all this information come from? All 50 state DMVs (and many in Canada, too) provide records to CARFAX. Information is also gathered from collision-repair centers, insurance companies, rental companies, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, dealerships, import/export companies, auction houses and state inspection stations.
When gaps have been found in the information provided in a vehicle history report, CARFAX has traditionally acted quickly to remedy the situation and provide more comprehensive and useful reports for consumers.
Following an investigation by CBS Atlanta into dealers who sold previously wrecked cars as clean even though mechanics working at auction houses -- where most used cars pass at some point -- had discovered wreck damage, CARFAX began partnering with auction houses to make sure that information was included on CARFAX reports.
Regardless of the history of any car, there's no way CARFAX can guarantee (or is responsible for doing so) that the records it provides are comprehensive and complete. CARFAX can only pass along information that has been provided to it -- if no record ever passes to CARFAX, it won't pass on to you.