How Does CARFAX Work?

by Christopher Raines

Vehicle databases such as CARFAX can help you learn if you're buying or have bought a damaged or defective vehicle. CARFAX is also a resource to help you spot odometer tampering and other vehicle fraud, see if a vehicle is stolen and discover where your wheels have been. State vehicle agencies, insurance companies, car dealerships, service stations and auctions are among the 86,000 sources for CARFAX.

Wrecks and Damages

The CARFAX report shows whether your vehicle was involved in an accident and the extent of damage. You can find out if the car has structural or frame damage from a wreck, was classified as totaled by an insurance company, sustained fire, flood or hail damage; or was titled as salvaged. The report displays the history of collision or other repairs and the identity of any recycled parts used in the repairs. You also can view information on airbag deployments occasioned by accidents.

Care and Condition Information

The report paints a picture of how the car has performed for and been cared for by prior owners. You can see the type, date and location of maintenance, such as oil changes and other routine service, and engine repairs. A report also will tell you if your car has been declared a lemon. Typically, a new car obtains lemon status when repeated repair attempts fail to make the car operable. Lemon laws vary by state, so your car may be considered a lemon in one state and not so in another. Also, you can view your vehicle's record of passing or failing state safety and emission inspections.

Additional Report Data

CARFAX can show you see where your vehicle was originally registered, when ownership was transferred, and whether liens such as a car loans are attached to the vehicle. Reports show the odometer, or mileage, readings of cars at various points in time. CARFAX will even tell you if a rental or lease company used the car before you bought it.

Ordering Reports

CARFAX charges for full reports. As of publication, one report costs $39.99 and five reports will run $49.99. Unlimited reports are available at $59.99, but they are based on the license plate number. Depending on your state, the license plate can be transferred to another vehicle, so your report may have information for multiple cars.


CARFAX will provide some information at no cost. You can register for a free account at []( to obtain your vehicle's service and inspection history and learn about open recalls. CARFAX, through its []( page, will allow you to enter your VIN number to see if there are any lemon reports. To see the specifics, you'll need to order the full report.

About the Author

Christopher Raines enjoys sharing his knowledge of business, financial matters and the law. He earned his business administration and law degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a lawyer since August 1996, Raines has handled cases involving business, consumer and other areas of the law.

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