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Vehicle history reports are essential when it comes to purchasing a used car. They give car buyers crucial insight into a vehicle's past, including any major accidents, maintenance records, title information, past owners and more.
While you can get limited free information about a car's past from other sources, the best-known vehicle history reports are sold by Carfax and AutoCheck. Most reliable car franchises and dealers have subscriptions to these providers and offer buyers free Carfax or AutoCheck reports. But if you're an independent seller or buying from a private-party seller, you'll typically have to purchase a report.
AutoCheck and Carfax offer vehicle history reports that provide accurate and up-to-date information. But there are differences between these two sources, such as pricing and what details are included in the reports.
Here's how to decide which provider is right for you.
» MORE: How to buy a used car
At a glance
Carfax vehicle history report
AutoCheck vehicle history report
$44.99 for a single report, $64.99 for three reports and $99.99 for five reports.
$24.99 for one report, or $49.99 for five reports for 21 days.
Some information included
Buyback protections and guarantees
Yes (not all errors are covered).
Yes (not all errors are covered).
Proprietary car score
Carfax may offer more details
Vehicle history reports from Carfax provide records of a car's reported accidents, ownership history (which includes the year a vehicle was purchased, where it was purchased, how it was used, estimated miles driven per year and odometer rollbacks) and title history (including any manufacturer recalls and information about brand titles).
Reports from the provider also include details about routine maintenance and service performed by mechanics — things like oil and filter changes —and if there are open recalls on the vehicle. All this information can show you how a car fared in the past and clue you into any potential problems.
To find a car's report through Carfax, you enter its vehicle identification number, after which you can see how many historical records are available for your vehicle. You'll then be prompted to select the number of history reports you want to buy and can pay through the site. Alternatively, if you don't have a car's VIN, you can enter its license plate number and state of registration to access its report.
Carfax boasts a database with "billions of records" from more than 100,000 sources, according to its website, with vehicle reports dating back to 1981. But these reports can be pricey, with a single one costing $44.99. And if you've got your eye on more than one car, which is commonly the case when shopping, you'll have to shell out $64.99 for three and $99.99 for five reports.
» MORE: Carfax app review
AutoCheck is better for the price conscious
Vehicle history reports offered by AutoCheck give information about usage and registration history (including if a car was used as a personal vehicle or as a rental or taxi), accident history, if there are any title brands like a salvaged or rebuilt title or if there are any liens on the car, odometer checks for rollbacks or mileage discrepancies and if there are any open recalls.
Additionally, the provider offers their AutoCheck Score, a number and a range on a scale of 1 to 100, given to a car based on the information on its history report. Cars with lower scores may have more problems or be less reliable. This score option can make it easier to compare similar cars at a glance before even diving into the information on a report.
To find the car you're looking for, you enter its VIN or license plate and state of registration. From there, you can purchase one report, which will cost you $24.99, or opt for the $49.99 option, which gives you access to five reports for 21 days.
While AutoCheck reports can cost less than those provided by Carfax, they may not have as detailed information about a car's reported maintenance records as Carfax typically does.
Which vehicle history report should you get?
Both AutoCheck and Carfax offer trustworthy vehicle history reports that provide essential information about a car's history. Carfax reports are pricier but may offer more in-depth and detailed information about the mechanical services performed on a car, while AutoCheck usually does not. However, if you're planning to purchase multiple reports, Autocheck might be the cheaper option.
Regardless of which service you opt for, a vehicle history report should only be a preliminary step in deciding whether you should get a car. Although the information in a report can be useful, it might not provide the whole picture. For example, if a car was serviced at an independent garage rather than a dealership or an accident wasn't reported, it won't appear on a report.