ConsumerWatch: Bay Area Car Buyer Finds Holes in Carfax Report

CASTRO VALLEY (CBS 5) – A CARFAX report will tell you a lot about a car you’re interested in buying. But, it may omit some important facts, as one East Bay car buyer found out recently. 

Castro Valley engineer Bruck Kifle bought a 2006 Nissan Sentra back in December 2010 from a private seller who told him “there were no problems with the car.” As “proof,” the seller showed him a CARFAX report that indicated no history of damage or accidents.

Two weeks after the sale, the car started acting up. “There were some noises, some vibration and shaking,” Kifle recalled. When he took it to a garage, the mechanic who examined the vehicle told Kifle the car had been a major accident — an accident so serious the car’s airbags had been deployed.

So why didn’t the accident show up on the CARFAX report? Spokesman Larry Gameche told CBS 5 ConsumerWatch the company is investigating, but noted the company gathers information from 34,000 sources in the U.S. and Canada, and that some information takes a while to reach its databases. Gameche pointed to a paragraph on that appears on all CARFAX reports that says the report is “based only on information supplied to CARFAX.”

The accident involving Kifle’s Nissan Sentra finally made it into CARFAX’s database in February 2011, three months after Kifle purchased the vehicle. It indicated the Sentra had been involved in a serious crash in March of 2010.

Rosemary Shahan of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety said CARFAX only paints a partial picture of a car’s history, especially in the cases of the worst damage. According to Shahan, CARFAX does not include information contained in the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, or NMVTIS, a registry that lists if cars are totaled, junked or salvaged. Insurance companies are required to report those severe-damage cases to the registry every thirty days.

CARFAX’s Gameche said the company does not use NMVTIS information because it is available through other sources. However, Shahan contends NMVTIS is more up-to-date than other sources.

Shahan recommended all used-car buyers start their research at the NMVTIS website, It supplies links to four companies that offer searches based on NMVTIS-supplied information.

Shahan said first find out if the car you’re considering is considered “junk” or “salvage,” a situation that occurs more often than you might think. If the report doesn’t reveal a major problem, Shahan recommended taking the car to a mechanic for a check-up, and using CARFAX at that point, to get more information.


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