Which Vehicle History Report is Best?
Overall the CarFax vehicle history report offers more detailed information for those buying a used vehicle. It does come at a higher price, and if saving money is critical we would still recommend AutoCheck reports, as they are easy to understand and much better than running no report at all. Before investing a large amount of money in a new car, it may be a good idea to run multiple reports from different sources.
Buying a used car always leaves something to chance, and for many people, it is one of the largest purchases they will ever make. It can be scary to sink that much money into something with an unknown past and an unknowable future. A vehicle history report is a good way to get some peace of mind by understanding the status of the vehicle title, reported repairs, maintenance history, and confirming the accuracy of the odometer.
The two largest players in the vehicle history report industry are AutoCheck and Carfax. Though they offer similar services, there are differences between their products. Before purchasing a history report it is a good idea to understand these differences and make sure you are getting the most appropriate product for your needs.
When to Get a Vehicle History Report
Without a doubt, if you are considering the purchase of a used car, you should get a vehicle history report. It is a key piece of the puzzle when deciding which car to purchase. The car’s history including number and location of ownership, potential title branding, maintenance records, flood or accident damage, and odometer accuracy can have a major effect on the vehicle’s value and long-term expected reliability.
If you are purchasing at a dealership, ask for a vehicle history report. Most dealers have memberships to one of the major reporting companies and should provide a copy of the report at no cost to potential buyers. If the dealership is unwilling to provide a report, it may be a red flag and a sign to walk away and find a more reputable car lot.
If you plan to purchase through a private seller, you can run your own vehicle history report. You will need the car’s vehicle identification number, which is a 17-digit code that can be found inside the driver’s side front door or on the dash visible through the lower driver’s side of the windshield. Depending on which service you use, the cost for a single check can be high starting at about $25 dollars. Most vehicle history report services have plans that include lower per-report fees for running multiple checks.
The least expensive option is to run a check through the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), to which insurance companies, repair shops, junk yards, salvage yards, and auto recyclers are required to submit information. The NMVTIS can be free or cost up to $10, but provides very few details, and is limited to whether the vehicle has a branded title and vehicle registration data. For most used car buyers we would recommend spending the additional money on a report with more details before making an automotive purchase.
AutoCheck vs CarFax:
AutoCheck is an Experian brand, and partners with many companies to be the vehicle history provider for their online listings. These companies include CarMax, eBay Motors, Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and NADAGuides. An AutoCheck vehicle history report may be provided on these sites, with the used car auction or sale listing. AutoCheck has been around since 1996 and is a popular provider of auto history reports to used car dealerships, with over 13,000 dealerships currently using the service. AutoCheck’s highest-tier plan allows the subscriber to check up to 300 VIN numbers over a period of time.
AutoCheck Reports have a unique feature called the AutoCheck Score, which grades the car’s history compared to other similar vehicles. The score is meant to simplify the vehicle history report down to an easy-to-understand grade. It can be confusing, however, because the score is not a number out of another specific number, like 85 out of 100. It is a score compared to a range that they assign to cars of the same make, model, and year. So the score could be a 79 compared to a suggested score range of 85 to 95. In this example, though the car scored a C+ on the old-fashioned zero to 100 scale, it is actually well below the expected acceptable score compared to its peers. Look for a vehicle with a score near the top of the range in order to make sure you are getting something with an excellent history.
A report from AuroCheck will contain information from all 50 states and the District of Columbia including information about serious damage or odometer issues. It will also contain manufacturer open recall information as well as insurance claims made on the vehicle, including whether it has been declared a total loss. AutoCheck also includes information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which may contain evidence that the car has been declared unsafe for road use. AutoCheck also includes exclusive auction house data which other providers do not offer.
AutoCheck has a few subscription packages available. A single report costs $24.99, which may be helpful if you are selling a car, but most people buying will want the ability to access multiple reports. The next package allows subscribers to run five reports over a three-week period for $49.99, which is likely the best package for an average car buyer. There are also packages available to businesses that allow them to run up to 300 reports.
The major advantage of AutoCheck’s vehicle history report is the lower cost compared to CarFax. Buyers who want to run reports on multiple vehicles may find this pricing more appealing.
When narrowing cars down before purchase it is a good idea to run checks on each vehicle, in order to properly compare their value. AutoCheck’s scoring system simplifies the report down to one number compared to similar cars, which some buyers may prefer, rather than reports with a deluge of information.
AutoCheck also offers Buyback Protection that can help protect your purchase against unreported branded titles.
AutoCheck reports are less comprehensive than reports provided by CarFax because they have fewer sources. Without maintenance records, service history, and other data sources buyers may not feel they are making an informed decision.
Though AutoCheck’s scoring system may be helpful for some buyers, it also may be confusing to others. A car could seem to have a high score but actually have a poor score compared to the score range for similar vehicles.
CarFax is probably the biggest name in the vehicle history report industry and has been around since 1984. The company first started faxing history reports in 1986 and was on the web just ten years later in 1996. Like AutoCheck, free CarFax reports may be available at used car dealers. CarFax was part of IHS Markit, but that company was purchased by S&P Global in 2022, and CarFax is now part of the S&P Global Mobility business unit.
CarFax claims to use data from over 100,000 sources, including billions of individual records. CarFax also includes domestic and international data sources, which not all services include. They get information from motor vehicle agencies, body shops, car dealerships, DMVs, emissions records, mechanics, and even law enforcement in an attempt to provide the most comprehensive vehicle history reports on the market. CarFax also includes information from fleet services and auction house records, which may not be available on other reports.
Like AutoCheck, CarFax includes information from all 50 states, and Washington DC, including detailed ownership records. The report also includes a certified odometer reading, helping to protect buyers against odometer rollback. CarFax also includes all available maintenance and service records.
Proper service history is one of the most important keys to the longevity of a vehicle, and verifying this service has been completed can set your mind at ease when purchasing a used car. Overall CarFax offers a more detailed reporting of the vehicles history beyond what AutoCheck and most other vehicle history companies provide. This service goes well beyond just reported accidents or title issues.
CarFax has three pricing options for used car shoppers interested in running vehicle history reports on potential vehicles. A single CarFax report costs $44.99 per report. A three-pack of reports costs $64.99, or $21.66 per report. The best value is a pack of five reports which costs $99.99 or about $20.00 per report. Comparing the AutoCheck and CarFax five-report packages, the CarFax vehicle history report costs roughly twice as much.
The main advantage of CarFax is that their reports are the most comprehensive in the industry, going well beyond checking for a salvage title. Having this more complete set of information, maintenance records, and previous owner history leaves less to chance when purchasing a used car.
CarFax also offers a BuyBack Guarantee, which can cover the cost of the vehicle if unreported title or registration issues that were not included in the report.
CarFax is more expensive than AutoCheck and most other vehicle history providers, and this may be a barrier to some car buyers, especially so if they need to check information on multiple cars.
In some cases, buyers may be paying for more information than they want or care about. A less expensive report with fewer sources and records may be better for buyers who just want basic information.
Don't Forget to Test Drive:
As you begin to narrow down the cars you may purchase, it is important to test drive each car. This may not be possible for internet sales, particularly if the car is in a far-off location, but if you can see and drive the vehicle in person before the sale, you should do so. There are many test drive guides available online that can provide a checklist of items to investigate. Bring your vehicle history report to the test drive, if you have already run one, and make sure the details line up with what has been reported. If you are test-driving at a dealer, ask for the report.
Aside from helping to confirm the condition of the vehicle, a test drive is also a good time to figure out if the car is livable for you. Are the seats comfortable, is there enough headroom, and will the trunk accommodate your stand-up base? It is hard to know if you really want a car without the opportunity to actually use it, even if only for a brief time. Purchasing a car, only to later find out it is difficult to see out of, noisy, or just doesn’t work for your lifestyle would not be ideal.
Although a vehicle history report is a key component in the car buying process, some accident history goes unreported, so is a good idea to have a pre-purchase inspection completed by a qualified mechanic. Do not stop at the VIN check and test drive if you have any doubt about the vehicle’s condition. Having the car looked over by a trusted mechanic may cost around $200, but it can save plenty of headaches and money down the road. Vehicle history reports also cannot know the exact up-to-the-minute condition of the car. A mechanic will inspect important vehicle systems and may find unreported issues or problems that have only occurred recently.
Vehicle history reports are an important part of the car buying process, and knowing which reporting service best fits your needs can help you arm yourself with the information to make the best decision. A VIN check from CarFax or AutoCheck can alert you to past issues or other red flags, which will help you decide whether or not to purchase the vehicle. Having the most information possible will help you understand the car’s potential value, and what its long-term reliability may be. Though the history report is an important step, you should supplement that information with a test drive and pre-purchase inspection before investing a substantial sum of money into a new vehicle.