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Vehicle history reports not foolproof

June 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Many used-car buyers rely on vehicle history reports from companies such as CARFAX and AutoCheck to see if a vehicle has been in a wreck. But these services are far from foolproof.With the economy the way it is, many consumers are in the market for a used car to save money. As a result, companies like CARFAX are doing more advertisements to get your business. But Eyewitness News and Consumer Reports found out used car reports aren't as reliable as they say they are.

Lezlie Simmons still has the CARFAX report for the used car she bought last year. The Toyota Camry had a clean record. Under accidents, it stated "no issues reported." But a week after Lezlie bought the car she started having problems.

She then learned it had been in a wreck.

"The car had a suspension problem," Lezlie said. "It was making noises. The front axle had to be replaced."

The repairs cost $4,000 and she says the car still needs work. A Consumer Reports' investigation finds what Lezlie found -- you can't count on a car history report to tell if a car has been in an accident.

Anthony Giorgianni from Consumer Reports located dozens of wrecked vehicles advertised online, most of which later came up with clean records.

Giorgianni checked out a 2007 Acura MDX, which had been dramatically damaged. The CARFAX report showed the vehicle as having no accident or damage. None of the other car-history reports Consumer Reports checked revealed the accident either.

"The AutoCheck report says, 'This vehicle checks out.' And then it gives the vehicle a score of 89 out of 100," Giorgianni said.

Despite these findings, Consumer Reports says checking car history reports is still worth it for what they can tell you. And check several, because one can miss what another picks up.

Besides CARFAX ($30) and AutoCheck ($15), consult the free or inexpensive services, such as VINCheck and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System.

But no matter what the report says, Consumer Reports says nothing replaces having a used car inspected by an independent mechanic, as well as checking it out thoroughly yourself.

Consumer Reports says one reason the services miss accidents is that they depend on the accident being reported to an insurance company, and that doesn't always happen. In light of Consumer Reports' investigation, CARFAX says it will begin looking at online advertisements for wrecked vehicles to see if it is possible to include that information in its reports.

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