Car history reports can’t deliver ‘complete’ history

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Car history reports are supposed to make car buying easier. Advertisers often try to entice users with claims that they need the reports to understand a used car’s history.

But an I-Team 8 investigation found while those reports can be beneficial, they can also include contradicting data, or have missing information.

Even representatives from companies like Carfax and Autocheck tell I-Team 8 information isn’t always reported and that those who provide them with information – motor vehicle bureaus, auto auctions and insurers – do so voluntarily, creating the possibility that information might fall through the cracks.

That’s what Robert Smith claims happened with his rare 2003 Ford Mustang Cobra. Smith bought the car used from a dealership in eastern Indiana. He claims the Carfax report provided to him by the dealership showed there were no accidents. He says he had the car for about four weeks before he discovered what appeared to be damage underneath the car.

“When I pulled the wheel off, and the inner fender, I noticed that the frame — it looked like an accordion,” said Smith during a recent interview with I-Team 8. “(The car) looked like it had been smashed. It looked like it had been pulled back out and the paint was a different color. It was a huge red flag.”

Smith and his attorney, Robert Duff, are preparing to retry a lawsuit against the dealership. Danford Due, the attorney representing the dealer, told I-Team 8 it’s his client’s contention that the vehicle was wrecked or damaged after it was sold to Smith. The first trial of this civil case ended in a hung jury.

A separate car history report run by I-Team 8 showed Smith’s Mustang had seven previous owners, corrected or duplicate titles, but no reported accidents.

Using a hidden camera, I-Team 8 visited several local car dealers, inquiring about several vehicles and pulling the car history reports for each of them. At one local dealership in Indianapolis, a car salesman admitted that the 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse we were shown had been used for street racing and been repaired several times.

“A lot of hands have been in this motor is what I’m trying to say,” the salesman told our hidden camera. The dealership did not provide free car history reports to would-be buyers but encouraged us to look it up on our own.

When asked about how reliable car history reports are, he said: “100 percent. I haven’t seen a lying (one) yet.”

But I-Team 8 found conflicting information for that Mitsubishi Eclipse. One report stated it had 10 previous owners. Another said 9. One report showed the car had been reported as a total loss and that the airbag deployed. One report claimed it had three separate damage reports while another stated it had two reported accidents.

Another dealer in Indianapolis showed I-Team 8 a 2006 Ford Taurus the manager claimed had one owner.

“He’s had it since it was new,” the used car lot manager said, repeating more than once that it was a one-owner car.

“It’s a good resource. But, it’s not the end all be all.”— Chris Basso, Carfax

But both Carfax and Autocheck showed the car had four previous owners. When pressed about this during a follow-up interview with I-Team 8, the manager said: “It was a mistake,” claiming he would’ve caught the error if we had bought the car.

When asked what action he would take in the future, he said, “Be more careful, I guess.”

That manager said he stopped providing car history reports because of the increased monthly cost to him and the fact that he claims information – including significant damage – often goes unreported.

“Let’s say I know five guys that do body work. If I ever wreck one of these cars myself, I’ll never turn it into insurance. I’ll take it straight to one of my body guys and it’s never going to go anywhere,” the manager said.

Chris Basso, a spokesman for Carfax, told I-Team 8 that does happen.

“There are incidents that happen every single day that aren’t reported to anybody, which is one of the reasons why we recommend people take the additional steps in addition to a Carfax report and have it inspected by a mechanic,” Basso said.

When asked if the reports were a good supplemental tool, he replied: “They are great place to start, It’s a good resource. But, it’s not the end all be all.”

Dave Nemtuda, a spokesman for Experian, the credit bureau that is also the parent company for Autocheck, told I-Team 8 car history companies have different sources for data – from state motor vehicle bureaus to insurers and auto auctions – which might explain some of the discrepancies.

Both companies also admitted that the sources that provide them with data do so voluntarily, creating the possibility that certain pieces of information could be under-reported.

What should you do?

Requesting a car history report can be easy.

  1. Find the vehicle’s VIN number. The VIN is located on the driver’s side of the car close to where the windshield and hood meet.
  2. Choose an online pay service such as Autocheck or Carfax
  3. Enter the VIN and learn some of the details of the car’s history for a fee.

Carfax’s Basso recommends using a car history report, but supplementing that information by taking the car you’re considering to a mechanic for a full inspection before making that purchase. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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