For car buyers looking to check the history of a vehicle, two main sources exist: CARFAX and Autocheck. To find out which source is more accurate, we ordered reports for 13 vehicles and compared the report data for various items, such as total number of odometer readings.
As expected, we found that CARFAX, the pricier option, has a more detailed history. Autocheck, which is slightly cheaper for a single report and significantly cheaper for multiple reports, actually came quite close to meeting the level of detail found in the CARFAX reports. Which reporting source to be used then, depends on a buyer’s needs.
For a buyer looking at more than 5 cars, Autocheck is a significantly better option. For $44.99, CARFAX will provide 5 reports while Autocheck will provide unlimited reports for a 30-day period. For a single report, both CARFAX and Autocheck charge $34.99 and $29.99, respectively. Note: these prices are as of September 29, 2010.
If you are buying an older vehicle, odometer fraud can be a serious issue. Hence, the most recent odometer reading becomes quite significant. When checking the most recent odometer reading for the cars in our study, we found that 7 cars had readings within 500 miles of each other, 1 car had a higher reading in Autocheck, and 5 cars had higher readings in CARFAX – 2 of them over 100,000 miles higher. In addition, CARFAX reports had more total odometer readings in 9 of 13 comparisons.
Two important questions often asked of dealers are “How many owners and accidents has this car been through?” Of our 13 vehicles, 5 had accidents that were reported in both sources while 1 CARFAX report had an accident not reported in Autocheck. For ownership history, CARFAX ranked higher in 1 report and Autocheck ranked higher in 2 reports; the other 10 reports showed the same number of owners. More significantly, while both had reported an accident for a Ford Explorer, only CARFAX reported frame damage – a major concern when purchasing a vehicle.
Although less important than issues like accidents or odometer tampering, the type of previous owner is a significant issue when buying a car. Was the car used as a fleet vehicle? A personal or corporate lease? In this category, both report sources scored about the same. Other than 1 Autocheck report which failed to disclose that a vehicle had been a lease, all reports listed the same previous owner types.
Other findings include:
– CARFAX reported recalls for 2 cars while Autocheck reported none
– CARFAX reported the deployment of an airbag while Autocheck did not
– Both sources reported a salvage title for a Scion
Based on our study, if a vehicle is older and/or more likely to have problems, CARFAX should be used as it will likely provide a more detailed history. If you are less concerned with issues like odometer fraud and accidents, or if you require a large number of reports, Autocheck is a more economical option.
A note on this study: The vehicles we ordered reports for ranged in years from 2000 to 2010 and across several models and body types. A larger study is recommended due to the fairly small sample size we used.