Carfax/Autocheck - are they worth it

Hi everyone, I am new on here and would like to ask your opinions please. My husband and I are from the UK and don’t really know the ins and outs of used car buying over here. We are looking to buy a used Nissan Pathfinder, 1996 SE model with 122K miles on the clock. Can you tell me if you think that an Autocheck or Carfax report is worth the money (I have seen on Consumer reports that Autocheck were sued & settled out of court!!) Also, the chap who is a “dealer” has the car at his house because their office location is under construction…I have yet to see the construction but was wondering if there is any advantage to someone being a “dealer” vs selling privately. One last thing - Is it normal practice to take the car to a mechanic for a full check prior to any kind of payment? Many thanks for any help. Cheers

  1. I think the chap you’re buying from is shady. My BS meter is ringing at his “dealership under construction story.”
  2. Yes, Carfax is worth the minimal fee. It won’t say the vehicle is any good, but it will certainly tell you if the vehicle’s ever been reported at totalled, flooded, or been in a reported collision. I believe it may have other info as well (being Canadian, we use carproof, a similar service.) I would recommend you get the carfax report for an potential used car purchase, especially considering the number of flooded cars on the used car market from Louisiana.
  3. Definitely get a potential used car inspected by a mechanic. It should cost somewhere around $100 for a mechanic to inspect the vehicle and write a report. While $100 may seem like a lot for a car you have yet to buy, consider the cost of repairs on a purchased lemon, which would certainly be more than $100. Also, if the seller will not let you get the car inspected by a mechanic of YOUR choice, walk away. This practice is not as common as it should be, but is definitely a smart idea.

Regarding dealer vs. private: At least in Canada, a private seller does not need to charge GST (a general federal sales tax) whereas a dealer does. Also, when buying from a private seller, the buyer must pay the provincial sales tax directly to the Ministry of Transportation when taking ownership, while the dealer charges the buyer directly, then the dealer would pay the necessary taxes. I think by saying he’s a dealer, the seller might be trying to get extra money out of you, by claiming you need to pay extra taxes because he’s a dealer. Personally, I think I would look elsewhere. Good luck.

Also, if you go to The Truth About Cars, they have a series of 4 or 5 articles regarding used car buying in the US, and are very informative. You can access these and other car buying articles here:

By the way, the TTAC articles offer general advice for anyone buying a used car, not just Americans. The process the articles recommend and detail are applicable anywhere and for anyone. They may contain some American specific details, though… haven’t read them in a while.

Hi lprocter, thanks very much for the information & I will get onto carfax & your recommended website. I hadn’t thought of the flooded cars and am also wondering about the “bs” factor - I guess that gut instinct is usually right huh?

Gut instinct is worth quite a lot in used car buying. If you feel something’s not right, walk away. As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather miss a good deal than fall for a bad one. Unfortunately, there are far too many ‘bad deals’ out there.

There need not be anything shady about this operation. All that really matters to you is that the vehicle is in sound condition, properly inspected (if required by your state), and the paperwork is in order.

Carfax reports never tell the whole story. They might turn up something provocative but typically omit damage that was repaired with no insurance claim.

Your best protection is a full inspection by an independent mechanic of your choice. Also consult with him and his colleagues about the dealer situation.

Here in the U.S., sometimes cars are sold from a home in what appears to be a private sale but in reality the seller is either a dealer or salesman.
In some cases, people act as “curbstoners”, which is someone basically acting as a non-licensed dealer.

CarFax should not be totally trusted as the reports can be incomplete or flat out wrong. If the report cannot be trusted 100% then why put one molecule of faith in it?

The main thing you need to do is make sure the title is clear (no financial encumberances) and clean (not branded as Salvage, etc.), and have a thorough checkout by a competent mechanic.