AutoCheck vs. Carfax: What you really need to know

August 4, 2021
Written by: Zach Shefska
Categories: Car Buying

As a result of ongoing new vehicle production shortages, used cars, trucks, and SUVs are in high demand. This means that “rougher” and “edgier” used vehicles are making their way to dealership lots for sale to the public. One way to protect yourself from unknowingly purchasing a clunker is to look at a Carfax or AutoCheck vehicle history report.

Today we’re going to share a few stories from the YAA Community about AutoCheck and Carfax, and provide our recommendations for how you can protect yourself if you are buying a used car.

Let’s dive in.

How do Carfax and AutoCheck work?

Let’s start with the basics … How do these two companies work? AutoCheck and Carfax both operate in the same way; they source data from different places and compile that information into reports that are easy for a consumer to understand. With this in mind, it’s clear how the two companies compete. Who can get more (and better) data about a vehicle? That’s the challenge.

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Carfax and AutoCheck both boast impressive lists of data partners on their websites. For example, Carfax says they have 112,000 data sources, while AutoCheck was developed by Experian and has access to all of their resources and relationships. Both companies provide compelling credentials as to why they are superior to the other. That being said, they both face the same issue: if data is not reported to them from one of their data partners, it will never show up on a report.

Which is more reliable?

This brings us to the most important question of them all … Which is more reliable? Carfax or AutoCheck? We’ll answer this question by providing a few anecdotes from our experiences, as well as what we’ve heard from YAA Community members who have shared their stories with us in the community forum or via Live Chat with our Auto Advocates.

AutoCheck doesn’t show damage, but Carfax does

Sadly, this happens more frequently than we’d like. Take for example the case of Chris, a gentleman in Alaska who purchased a 2019 Ford Fusion from a local independent dealership.

Chris went to the dealership, took the Fusion for a test drive, reviewed the AutoCheck report that the dealer provided, and purchased his car. A few days later he took it to the local Ford dealership because a light came on in the dash. Within an hour, Chris had a sinking feeling in his stomach when a technician came to him and explained that his vehicle had been in a severe accident. Chris, unbeknownst to him, had bought a clunker.

How could that happen? The AutoCheck had been clean. In case it wasn’t obvious, this is why we always recommend getting a pre-purchase inspection completed on any used vehicle (even certified pre-owned). That being said, what was scary about Chris’ experience is that Carfax had different data than AutoCheck—they did report damage to the vehicle (but not an accident).

Let’s look at the two reports, and some photos of the vehicle before it was repaired.

autocheck report
This is the AutoCheck report for Chris’ 2019 Ford Fusion.

As you can see on the AutoCheck report, the Fusion comes back “clean” and with an average AutoCheck score. Let’s look at the Carfax report.

carfax report with damage
The Carfax for Chris’ Ford Fusion shows damage, but no accidents.

As you can see on the Carfax report there are no accidents reported either, however there is a report of damage to the vehicle.

Carfax damage report

Right there on the Carfax report it says clearly “get the vehicle inspected before you buy.” Carfax knew about the damage, and AutoCheck didn’t. Chris obviously didn’t get the vehicle inspected, and he trusted the dealer who sold him the vehicle because they provided a “clean” AutoCheck.

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Does this mean AutoCheck is inferior to Carfax? We’ll let you be the judge …

We heard a similar story from a YAA Community member named Kristen.

Kristen's autocheck came back clean, the carfax had an accident

Kristen had a nearly identical experience to Chris. She bought a vehicle (and even got the extended warranty), only to find out a few weeks later that it had previously been in not only one, but two accidents!

Does AutoCheck not collect as much information as Carfax? Based on some of our communities experiences, it appears that way.

How to protect yourself

Get a pre purchase inspection

I know we sound like a broken record, but getting a pre-purchase inspection is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself when buying a used vehicle. A pre-purchase inspection isn’t bullet-proof, but it certainly increases the likelihood of you avoiding a fate like Chris or Kristen.

Ask your insurer to check the VIN

Another trick you can use to get more information about a vehicle is to ask your insurance company to check the VIN in their systems. Insurance companies have databases similar to Carfax and AutoCheck that they can access on your behalf. Once you’ve found a vehicle you’re interested in, call your insurance company and ask them what info they have on the VIN. If it comes back clean on their end, then get the pre-purchase inspection.

Understand that when you buy used you are buying “as-is”

In nearly every state, when you purchase a used vehicle you are purchasing it “as-is.” This means that no matter what condition the vehicle is, you are purchasing it as such. This doesn’t mean a dealership can sell you any clunker (vehicles have to pass state safety inspections to be sold), however it does mean that once they’ve sold you something it is entirely yours to deal with. The contract you signed stated it is being sold to you “as-is” and that the dealer cannot be held liable for the condition of the vehicle.

It is important that you understand the “as-is” concept, because your recourse post-purchase if something does go wrong is limited. If you’re like Chris or Kristen you have a few options to remediate the situation, however none are ideal. It is critically important that you understand you are purchasing the vehicle “as-is” and that you should be measured and pragmatic before signing the contract.

Not sure where to begin?

Take a look at our curated 'Start Here' resources or explore and ask questions in the community forum

3 Comments

  1. george braue

    Regarding PPIs for CPO cars:
    I have reviewed many CPO inspection reports generated by Audi and Porsche dealers, and these docs often contain mistakes and errors that a competent independent PPI should catch. A report on a car that I bought recently incorrectly noted that the driver’s manual and the optional floor mats were in the car (they weren’t), and it failed to note rodent damage that was visible under the engine hood. Moreover, you have to wonder about the competency of the dealer’s inspector and whether there is a conflict of interest which may incline the inspector to fail to note an intermittent problem (clutch chudder, steering issues, oil leaks, oil burning) which may exist but which may be considered too expensive for the dealer to note and fix. A California Lemon Law atty once told me that he was suspicious of all dealer generated CPO inspection reports because he said he had seen instances where the technician signing the report couldn’t even read or write English, but was capable of checking the boxes on the form.
    In addition, altho the salesperson often asserts that the dealer has re-conditioned the car (new brakes, tires, etc) it may be impossible to verify that work from reading the CPO report (since the report only provides current measurements) and you may need to request additional verification that the work was actually done.
    It would be really helpful if you guys could advise us on the best way to use a PPI in current used car negotiations. What should we do to insure that the dealer doesn’t sell the car to someone else or jack up the price, during the PPI?

    Reply
  2. Martin

    Re: “when you purchase a used vehicle you are purchasing it ‘as-is’ “… Shouldn’t this and the related statements note exceptions for CPOs and other used cars that come with a warranty (often brief), such as from some web-only dealers?

    Reply
  3. Allan Samilow

    Story Time with Uncle Ray. Always a hit.

    Reply

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