AutoCheck vs. CarFax: Which Vehicle History Report Do You Need?

by Matt Smith

Vehicle history reports are a valuable tool in the fight against car-shopping anxiety. They combine information ranging from DMV titling records to insurance companies' total-loss assessments, and from accident history to ownership history. Many dealerships offer vehicle history reports for free, but even if you have to pay for one, rest assured that it is a worthwhile investment.

Why Every Used-Car Shopper Should Check Vehicle History Reports

What is a Vehicle History Report?
AutoCheck vs CarFax
Alternatives to Vehicle History Reports
Can I get a Vehicle History Report for Free?
Do I Need a Mechanic Inspection, Too?

What is a Vehicle History Report?

For many, shopping for a used car is accompanied by feelings of dread and discomfort. Even when you've searched high and low to find that perfect car, with everything you need and every option you want, you may still hear that little voice in the back of your mind wondering, "Why's the price so low? Who else has driven this car? Where has it been?" In times like these, vehicle history reports can provide some valuable, if not exhaustive, information to make the car buying process less stressful.

A VIN check (VIN meaning vehicle identification number) lets car buyers see, in a single report, a number of useful facts about the car that can answer your questions, or at least hint at the answers, to the automotive mystery that is a used car.

Though it can't actually provide a comprehensive list of every person who has driven the car, the report will enumerate the previous owners. It will also let you know the car's title history, so you'll know if it's had flood damage or been issued a salvage title—either would substantially influence the pricing. Title issues can also make getting a car registered difficult.

Also tied to the car's vehicle identification number? Information about any and all airbag deployments, useful clues about the car's history. It will even tell you about open recalls (and previous recalls that have been addressed) for that car, which will come in handy if you're considering several examples of the same model. That way, you can choose between similar cars based on condition and eliminate ones with any red flags.


AutoCheck vs CarFax

Numerous companies offer vehicle history reports, but CarFax and AutoCheck stand out. CarFax and AutoCheck are both for-profit businesses, with CarFax starting the whole idea back in 1984. AutoCheck is owned by Experian and distinguishes itself with a comprehensive "score" for each vehicle. Both sources collect information primarily from Departments of Motor Vehicles, insurance providers, auto recyclers, and junk and salvage yards.


An AutoCheck report includes accident history, the number of owners the car has had, an overview of its service history, and odometer readings. However, an AutoCheck vehicle history report also includes the company's "AutoCheck Score" for each vehicle—this is a number between 1 and 100 designed to quickly capture the condition and history of the car. The higher the number, the better. That makes comparing similar vehicles easier. However, keep in mind that the AutoCheck score should be viewed as a quick reference guide; for a real understanding of the vehicle's history, you'll want to investigate further into the report's details.

While less well-known than CarFax, Autocheck vehicle history reports are legitimate and a good, less-expensive option. Prices start at $24.99 for a single report, but shoppers can purchase a plan that affords them 25 reports over 21 days for the comparatively low price of $49.99.


A CarFax vehicle history report costs the most but is also the most recognizable. A CarFax report includes (among other things) accident history, the number of owners the car has had, an overview of its service history, and an accounting of the car's odometer readings to protect against false readings from an odometer rollback.

CarFax is a better-known company than AutoCheck, but its reports cost more, too. A single CarFax report costs $39.99, although you can purchase bundles at a more favorable rate: $59.99 for three or $99.99 for six.

Alternatives to Vehicle History Reports

An alternative to for-profit services like CarFax and AutoCheck is the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS). Managed under the U.S. Department of Justice's umbrella and run by the non-profit American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), the NMVTIS works with a series of providers to disseminate its information.

The NMVTIS delivers reports through a set of providers for much less than either Carfax or AutoCheck, and its reports are very accurate, as state titling agencies, insurance carriers, auto recyclers, and junk and salvage yards are required to report to it. That being said, NMVTIS reports don’t offer as much detailed information as the competition.

If you can’t get ahold of a vehicle history report, a pre-purchase inspection will tell you a lot about a car’s condition. It will be possible to spot wear and tear and judge the quality of repairs, although some issues could remain hidden.

Can I get a Vehicle History Report for Free?

Vehicle history reports themselves are not free, but many car dealerships, from big used car chains like Carmax to established franchise dealerships, are likely to offer them for free to customers for used vehicles. That probably won’t be the case with a private seller, though.

Do I Need a Mechanic Inspection, Too?

Whether it's a CarFax, an AutoCheck, or from the NMVTIS, vehicle history reports are undoubtedly valuable. They offer legitimate third-party information to help shoppers know a little more about what they're looking at and can steer shoppers away from a potential lemon, saving them the time it takes to get to a dealership for a test drive, not to mention the process of negotiating.

That being said, vehicle history reports aren't foolproof, either. Similar to credit reports, these documents are only as good as the data sources, so if a driver has a car accident and opts to repair the damage him- or herself, that accident won't appear on the vehicle's history report. Any service records or maintenance records will also only be as complete as previous owners made them. Additionally, there can be a substantial time delay between when the data is reported and when you purchase a report, meaning the information might not be as up-to-date as possible.

For these reasons, you should check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's recall look-up tool and have every potential used car purchase inspected by an independent mechanic, no matter what the CarFax says.

Related Topics

What to Look For When Buying a Used Car
How To Negotiate a Great Deal on a Used Car
How To Spot a Flood-Damaged Car

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When it comes to cars, Matt's curiosity extends well beyond the powertrain. From Ford to Porsche, he's as interested in the history behind the machine as he is in the view behind the wheel. Matt has been working on the journalism side of the auto industry since 2014. As CarGurus’ Deputy Editor, he creates and oversees the site’s written and video content.

Stephen is a freelance automotive journalist covering everything on four wheels. Whether it's a new EV or a full-size pickup truck, he's eager to drive it and tell you all about it in a CarGurus Test Drive Review. Besides contributing to CarGurus, Stephen currently has bylines at Digital Trends, Green Car Reports, and Motor Authority.

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