Car Fax, Autocheck what do they really mean

The TV commercials tell you to make sure you get a carfax before you buy.

Carfax and what it means:

But do you really know what you are looking at. Much of the information is good reading and provides comforting background on a vehicle.   Such as where it was purchased new, when it was purchased…but often they will give info that can cause undo concern, or create negative feelings about a car that could have been a nice car.

As a dealer, what I don’t like, is the ambiguities they sometimes provide in their reports that mean nothing, but cause a buyer to think there is really something wrong. For example, possible frame damage.  What they don’t tell you, this can be something as small as a 1″ dent in a front fender mounting bracket to an actual damaged frame member that could have safety implications.   That 1″ dent, is nothing that would be considered a safety issue at all, but when a normal consumer reads that, panic normally follows….”FRAME DAMAGE, OMG”

Here is a great example, first hand, I had happen to me.  Carfax mentions police report, accident. No mention of how bad, how good…most folks would simply stop right there. The truth of this police report, was a bicycle ran into to the side of the car in downtown Portland, and they had to call the police. Now as a dealer, in Portland Oregon, (one of the most bike  friendly city’s around) this is the closest to a warm fuzzy accident you will ever find.  There was minimal damage and nothing that was a safety issue. I purchased the vehicle for thousands below what the market was getting for them, and sold it for thousands below as well.  The buyer got a car that was comfortably worth 3 to 4,000 more then they paid.

Truth is Carfaxes and Autochecks are only one tool when your looking at a used car.   Use them to guide you to your next level of decision making.  If the Carfax or Autocheck has an accident indicator, or a possible frame damage, but other then that shows a clean history.  And the overall car is clean and nice, I would not dismiss it simply for the report.  I would use that info in two ways.

  • Negotiating a better price
  • Additional vehicle inspection

First, if the vehicle belongs to a dealer, they know with that mark on its record it will sell for less, so use it to your advantage.  If it is a private party, they have probably never read this blog, so make sure and use it to your advantage…talk about how horrible this information is, and simply offer way less.  🙂

Second,  after you negotiate a lower price, make your purchase subject to your having the vehicle inspected by a neutral 3rd party.    There are numerous outlets that can do  a frame  and safety inspection.  They will look the vehicle over and tell you where and how bad any damage was, and if there are any safety issues.  If you can not find someone you trust to do the inspection, and you have any dealer auctions in your area, call them as ask about a referral.  Most dealers & all auctions really do not want any hidden defects in the cars they sell, so they go out of their way to provide several levels of inspections…and one is the frame and safety.

In conclusion, the answer is simple… always buy your vehicles with due diligence, run an



Then use that info to move to the next level of your decision making…

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