How to read a CARFAX report

Caliber Automotive Edmonton Vehicle Service and Repair

Do I need to purchase a CARFAX report when considering a second-hand vehicle? YES.

I have learned over the years that it’s much more than a vehicle you are purchasing, it’s equally the story.

“I am the second owner”.

“I bought it from a family friend”.

“It has never been in any accidents”.

“I have had it for 4 years”.

“There are no issues with it, it is perfect”.

“We just traded this in yesterday from the original owner”.

“I only used it to go to the grocery store on Saturday and Church on Sunday”.

Ok, ok… I could go on all day, and it’s likely you have heard one or two of these in the past.

What can a CARFAX tell me?

Understanding the information packed in a CARFAX report will place the power in your hands to know whether or not the story you are being told lines up to reality.

From the top down on a CARFAX report you will find the following info;
  • Vehicle information, this will also indicate if the vehicle has only had one owner, however it is not always true. (Always check to make sure the vin number matches if the report was provided to you).
  • Accident/Damage, this will show reported accident damage estimates, repairs and types of claims.
  • Other Damage Records police incidents and branding are most common here.
  • Registration events, this will show all of the countries and provinces the vehicle has been registered in and will accompany the vehicles branding. (Branding indicates its registered status; “Rebuilt”, “Salvage”, ‘Normal”, “Inspection required”, “Non-operable”, “Stolen”).
  • Service records, this will show the summary of service records and their location. (This is not an exhaustive list as it requires the service department to register to report to CARFAX).
  • Open recalls, if there are outstanding recalls you will find them here.
  • Stolen vehicle check, this will show at the time of the report whether the vehicle was actively reported stolen.
  • Detailed history, this is a chronological list of all events previously identified under the other headings.
  • Lien details (optional at purchase, but recommended), here you will see any active liens or judgments placed against the vehicle.
Now, let’s have some fun!
Case study, 2011 Ford F150.

With a comforting low mileage at only 54,943km, it began almost to good to be true. The owner indicated that he had purchase it from his boss who owned it as a company vehicle, and that there are no issues with it as far as he knew.

The truck was brought to us for a “Pre-purchase” vehicle inspection. Mechanically the truck was average, so overall pretty good; however, there were some signs that there were deeper concerns; most of the body panels had been painted.

I called our customer and asked if they had pulled a CARFAX report; it just so happened that they were in the process of ordering one. Once we took a look at the report it was clear something was fishy.

The report showed two separate collision incidents, one indicating a “total loss” event. the other areas of concern were the registration events; there was a 7-year gap between the “total loss” event, and the next registration. On top of that there was an active lien on the vehicle.

Upon further discussions with the seller; it was discovered that his boss had been involved in an incident where he was impaired and in a collision as a result the province put a lien on the vehicle.

Needless to say, we let that one pass. And the current owner had some figuring out to do before they could sell it.

What you need to know.

Let’s back up for a minute; remember at the beginning when I shared the famous quotes of people selling their vehicles? Here’s how you can qualify them with the CARFAX report;

“I am the second owner”. The registration events will show you the date of the registration and the location. Since we all register based on the spelling of our last name; take a look at the frequency of registration. If the month changes it likely indicates a new owner.

“I have had it for 4 years”. Then you see on the report that it was recently reported at an auction, likely a curber and it is advised that you leave the car with them.

“It has never been in any accidents”. Which could be true, however, there are instances where the accidents are not reported. If ever there was a collision where a vehicle was not covered by insurance and did not go through any of the reporting processes; the event will not show on a CARFAX report. This is a good reason you would want an inspection report completed. You may see a “police reported incident”, or “insurance incident”; these usually indicate a collision of some sort, but may not have a dollar value attached to them.

“There are no issues with it, it is perfect”. That’s great! take a look through the service records on the report. Every reporting business has a different way they submit service records to CARFAX, some are more detailed than others. My advice is to see if there was an uptick in service frequency, or the service record indicates more specific “big ticket” items. For example, if the service record states “checked transmission”; you may want to ask for details about that visit, or to see the service invoice.

“I only used it to go to the grocery store on Saturday and Church on Sunday”. Ok this is sounding good, that is until you see the “mileage inconsistency” alert on the CARFAX detail. Yes, even modern-day odometers can be “rolled back”.

In order to get a CARFAX report, head over to; . You will need the vehicles VIN number and a credit card; within a minute you will have the report. I will often pull the report while standing next to the vehicle if it is one I am serious about buying.

I hope with this information you will be better prepared to read between the lines of a CARFAX.