Carfax Vehicle History Reports May Not Tell the Whole Story

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Lou Rissen of North Andover, Massachusetts, was ready to trade in his BMW for a newer model.

"I went to the car dealership and found a car that I liked," said Rissen. "They wanted to go over the car, and said, 'Your trade-in is going to be worthless, because you have structural damage from an accident in 2017.'"

How did the dealership know? It was on the Carfax report for Rissen's vehicle. The service sells vehicle history reports to consumers and dealers.

But Rissen says the info was incorrect. He was hit in 2017, but he says there was no structural damage found. It's something he confirmed with his auto mechanic and got in writing. It's also a mistake that could have been costly, reducing his trade in value by $6,000.

"I spoke to Carfax, and said, 'Your report is erroneous, because there was no structural damage, and you're telling me that it is,'" explained Rissin. "They said they would check it out."

Despite repeated attempts to resolve the issue, Rissen says Carfax wouldn't update the report.

"They just wouldn't change their minds," said Rissen. "It made me hold off on actually looking for a car, because I said, 'You know, it's like losing $6,000 for no reason.'"

Searching through our consumer investigative database, we found dozens of Carfax complaints nationwide. Some viewers, like Rissen, found errors on their reports, and others say accident information appeared on their Carfax report after they purchased a vehicle. NBC sat down with Emilie Voss of Carfax, and she acknowledges that the company doesn't have all the data available on every car.

"We don't have every record on every vehicle," said Voss. "We are constantly adding data sources, but we don't have everything. We are working toward that. We are still the largest vehicle history database — the best bet and still a tool that we ask consumers to use as they look to purchase a car sell a car."

Voss says Carfax has over 112,000 sources and 23 billion records that feed their vehicle history reports — information that comes from insurance companies, law enforcement, service shops, auction sites and other sources. Voss says their information is always being updated, which is why you could find out a vehicle was involved in an accident after you bought it.

"If there is a specific data source that hasn't sent their data in to us, we don't have it," said Voss. "A lot of times, what happens is when we add the data sources, because we are constantly adding them, then prior events from history of that data source will be added. That's where you'll see stuff added maybe years after it happened."

Rissen eventually got his Carfax report revised after contacting a Massachusetts state agency for help.

"I was able to trade in the car for the correct value, and I got my new car," he said.

As part of its disclaimer, Carfax states it does not have the complete history of every vehicle and recommends that consumers take a test drive and get an independent inspection of the vehicle before buying it. If you're planning on selling a vehicle, check the Carfax vehicle report ahead of time. If you see something that is't accurate, Carfax says to reach out to their product support team for help.

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