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CARFAX Reports
What you don't know about these reports can definitely hurt you!

Published 7/17/2002

Surely by now, most of you have heard of CARFAX. It is one of a few companies offering a service whereby you can check the Title history of any given vehicle built after 1980. Whilst the information contained in these reports can be indeed be useful, many, many buyers still go on to make a terrible mistake, and this is why.

Although this article isn't strictly about Classic Cars as it pertains to vehicles built in 1981 or later, it certainly is relevant to buyers.

The reoccurring problems that we see time and time again, is that although you can order a Carfax report online yourself, most people don't know how to read them. They see that it says the car has a "clean title", with no major accident, flood damage or theft and they think they are all set..WRONG! You can STILL get burned, and here's why

These types of vehicle history reports are only as good as the sources they use, and therein lies the problem. Although these resources are fairly reliable they are NOT infallible. Carfax's answer is to give to give you $5000- but if you have just bought $35,000 worth of junk and it is sitting in your driveway, that's of little help!

I could site several examples, but I give you just two. I currently own a car, it is parked outside, and it was totaled two years ago when I was t-boned as I sat at a junction on a snowy New England night. However, in the drawer of the very desk that I am writing this article on, is the title for that vehicle - and it is perfectly clean. That is to say it is not a 'Salvage' title. How is this possible, you ask? Well it is all perfectly legal. When the car got hit, the title was in the process of being created by the DMV since I had just registered the car two weeks earlier and had not received the new title back. Three weeks later it showed up, which is why I have a totaled car and a clean title. You see it is not in the system and will not show up on a Carfax report until someone goes to register it next time then the record will be set straight.

The other example, which comes to mind, has to do with a $190,000 Lamborghini Diablo that was offered for sale at $30,000 under market retail. A customer came to us and asked that we inspect it prior to his purchase. Well, the first thing we did was to run the VIN to obtain a Vehicle's Title History - which (according to Carfax) came back clean. However there were things about the report that raised our 'little red flags'. Most notably, the car had migrated clear across the country from California to Florida with a short spell in Georgia. Well, to cut a long story short, after some further digging we found out that the original owner of this car was a certain purple-haired, boa wearing basketball star, and when he last saw it, it was 'U-shaped' after he had wrapped it around a tree! The insurance company totaled the vehicle. So how did it end up in Florida with a clean title? Well remember I mentioned it had passed through Georgia. Well, that is where the title was 'washed', and it awaited an unsuspecting buyer who was gullible enough to think he was getting the deal of the decade on a Lamborghini!

It is not uncommon practice for wealthy owners of exotic cars who get in accidents, to simply pay for the repairs to be made to their vehicles themselves, and to not report the incident to their insurance company. They do this because there are very few people interested in buying an exotic car that has been hit, and in economic terms, the loss the owner would take if he tried to sell it, would usually be far greater that the cost of making the repairs.

The secret to gleaning information from a vehicle history report is to read between the lines. If you see the car has had multiple title changes - beware. If the state it is being offered for sale is a long way from where it was first sold new - beware. If it is been sold through an auction - beware. If it has been titled in Georgia, Alabama or New Hampshire - beware.

The point I am trying to make here is, that if you do not know what to look for in a vehicle's history, don't run the check yourself, spend an extra $10 and have someone like www.AutomobileInspections.com do it for you. They can help you to understand what you need to be aware of, and ensure there is nothing in the report that you may overlook. It does not take a genius to see that it would be money well spent.

Jeff Webster
Buyer Services International LLC

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