What is a CARFAX report?

Have you ever wondered, "what is a CARFAX report?" A CARFAX report offers a comprehensive vehicle history based on the VIN, including accidents, recalls, and the car’s buy/sell history.
Written by Michelle Ballestrasse
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
A CARFAX report is common when buying or selling a used car. The report offers a comprehensive vehicle history based on the VIN, including things like accidents, recalls, prior damage, and even the buy/sell history.
If you’re in the market for a used vehicle, either through a private seller or a dealership, a CARFAX report is one of the best tools you can come prepared with. It will tell you, in plain language, about the things sellers may try to hide.
Getting a CARFAX report is the first step in finding the right used car. But don’t forget—the car you choose can affect how much you’ll have to pay for
car insurance
, too.
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But before you get ahead of yourself, let’s dive deeper into those CARFAX reports.
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What is a CARFAX report?

A CARFAX report is a nearly-complete and comprehensive vehicle history attributed to its VIN. This includes any accidents, recalls, and the car’s purchase/sell history, so you can easily see how many times the
certificate of title
has changed hands.
The CARFAX report uses data from thousands of different databases, including title history from the DMV, so the information is extremely accurate.
Because most auto repair shops report all repairs and maintenance done to the car, a CARFAX report should also provide a great snapshot into how well the car was cared for.
The report should also have the most recent odometer reading, so any major discrepancy between the odometer reading on the CARFAX report and what the car itself shows can be a major red flag.
Key Takeaway A CARFAX report can help you determine how well a car was cared for. A report with a complete maintenance history is a good indicator that the car will last.

How does a CARFAX work?

CARFAX has access to billions of records via databases like the DMV, so they can compile a report on a vehicle’s history.
This allows
would-be car buyers
to gauge potential purchases to their personal specifications. For example, a buyer who wants to avoid a used car with lots of stop-and-go wear will want to avoid a car that was used for ride-sharing—which a CARFAX would reveal.
It’s important to note that CARFAX reports are not complete. There are limits to what information the service can access and privacy laws in each state that can hamper what data can be publicly shared.
In addition, unreported
fender benders
or minor accidents won’t show up on a CARFAX.
So while a CARFAX report is a handy tool, it shouldn’t be considered a complete vehicle report, nor should it be the only factor in your decision to buy the car. Make sure you do a
test drive
and get an expert opinion if you can, even if it just means discussing the CARFAX report with a mechanic.
And most importantly, remember that there are other information providers besides CARFAX that can offer more insight into the car’s history—often for free. It won’t be as comprehensive as the CARFAX report, but it may help fill in some gaps.
Key Takeaway CARFAX reports are very thorough, but they are not complete due to limits on information access and privacy laws.

Can I get a CARFAX for free?

You can get free CARFAX reports if you shop for cars via CARFAX’s own used car listings, and most used dealerships usually have them on hand if you ask for them. But private sellers may or may not have a CARFAX on hand, strictly because they are not free to order.
You can order a CARFAX report through their website, but it will cost you. Each CARFAX report costs $39.99 per vehicle, but you can access it indefinitely. There are discounts for ordering more than one at a time.
A CARFAX report can help you make the best possible decision when it comes to buying a used car—but that’s only half of the equation. Once you’ve found the one, the next major task is getting it insured.

Insuring your used car

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What does a CARFAX show you?

A CARFAX report will show you all reported accidents, repairs, recalls, and title transfers in a vehicle’s history, plus the most recent odometer reading. But it’s not a complete report—any unreported incidents won’t show up on it.
CARFAX reports also won’t show the personal information of the car’s previous owner due to privacy laws.

Do I have to pay for a CARFAX report?

If you're buying a car, you don't always have to pay for a CARFAX report. Many dealership websites will already have a CARFAX report on the car you're looking at, and if not, you can request one.
However, if your request is denied, you will have to pay for one yourself. And if you're buying from a private seller, you will probably have to buy one yourself then, too.
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