ABC-TV recently did a little "expose" on use and misuse of the Carfax service, which provides automated information about a used car's history. I was shocked, shocked I tell you (NOT) to learn that (a) Carfax doesn't necessarily include everything about a car's history and (b) that dealers presenting potential buyers with a Carfax report are likely to exaggerate its comprehensiveness.
As with all such efforts to corral information on the internet, the consumer just has to be aware of the limitations of the medium. Carfax officials point out that they can only record the information that comes to their attention, but their report can't be considered 100% comprehensive. Just consider what that means in terms of cars that might have been in floods ... we're always told to avoid those, but how would that get reported?
Last month I traded in a car I'd bought new and owned for ten years. Several dealers just gave me a stated trade-in value, but one actually showed me the Carfax report on my vehicle. It's easy to see the limitations of the service. It showed an accident within months after the car was purchased. True enough - it was rear-ended when the driver behind me failed to stop in time for a highway slow-down. But there was no detail - simply "accident." Moreover, because the car dealer, like many these days, doesn't do his own bodywork and sent me to a body shop down the street (which evidently was not connected into any reporting system), there was no record that repairs had been done. The rest of the report showed that I'd been in regularly for service over my ten years' ownership, but not even a hint of what was done. Oil change or major problem with the drivetrain, it's all the same to Carfax.
Carfax's limitations also have implications for owners who want to trade in or sell their used cars. The mere mention of an "accident" can affect the price or value you'll be offered, even if, as in my case, the damage was repaired and I'd been driving the car ten long years since!
The lesson of Carfax, as usual if we don't want to be duped when buying something, is advice so old that it comes in Latin as well as in English: "Let the buyer beware." Caveat emptor. It hasn't changed just because of the internet.