Bamboozled: Show me the car facts

Want a used car? You want to buy one from a driver like Marlene Sardoff.

She estimates she adds a mere 4,000 miles per year to her 2006 Mercedes Benz E350, which she bought in 2007 with 11,000 miles on it.

She only drives locally. No highways and no long road trips.

On Nov. 12, this light driver decided she wanted a new set of wheels. She returned to Mercedes and selected a sporty red C300, smaller than her current car. The one on the lot had all the features she wanted.

“The reason I wanted a red one is that I can find it in the parking lot,” she said. “My car now looks the same as everyone else’s.”

So she asked the dealer if she could trade in her car, and it looked like Sardoff had a deal.

Until the dealer pulled a CARFAX report – a report that details a vehicle’s history.

“I was horrified to discover gross inaccuracies that are costing me an $8,000 loss on the trade-in,” the Monroe Township woman.


There was something fishy about the report.

On the day Sardoff visited the dealer, her car’s odometer read about 27,500 – she doesn’t remember the exact number.

The report shows a correct odometer reading of 24,303 on July 27, 2010, when Sardoff said she took her car to an auto body shop for an estimate. She decided not to have the shop do the work, instead using a mechanic that had been recommended by her insurance company. On that same day – July 27, 2010 – she dropped her car at the mechanic and there it remained until Aug. 6, 2010.

“The car was in the shop being worked on and naturally not driven by me nor did I have any access to the car,” Sardoff said. “So it’s to be assumed that the odometer should still have read about 24,303.”

But on the day the work was completed, Aug. 6, the CARFAX report showed the mileage was at 32,000.

Unless the mechanic took a massive road trip, that kind of mileage increase didn’t make sense, Sardoff said. That’s two years’ worth of mileage, the way Sardoff drives.

The next listing on CARFAX said on Dec. 3, 2010, the car was inspected by a New Jersey motor vehicles inspection service and the mileage was 35,853.

“Impossible!” Sardoff said, noting she didn’t take her car for an inspection at that time.

“It doesn’t seem plausible that two companies both could have incorrectly read the odometer,” Sardoff said. “It seems more likely that some incompetent at CARFAX incorrectly typed the wrong mileage.”

Sardoff thought it could be a data entry mistake, in which someone substituted the number “3” for the number “2.” Had the number “2” been used, the mileage for the two odd odometer readings would have said 22,000 (instead of 32,000) and 25,863 (instead of 35,863).

Sardoff said the normal trade-in value for her car would be between $20,000 and $22,000,but because of the CARFAX report, the dealer could only offer her $12,000.

“Coming January and a new year, the trade-in price would be even less,” she said, noting that the dealer, which always serviced her car and knew her driving habits, agreed that the CARFAX report had to be wrong. That didn’t matter, though.

“The dealer said because of the mileage inconsistencies on the CARFAX report, they won’t be able to sell the car and will have to put it up at auction,” she said.

Sardoff filled out CARFAX’s online help form on Nov. 13 and again on Nov. 14, but she only received automated replies. She tried to find a telephone number, she said, but she had no luck.

That’s when she asked Bamboozled for help.


After reviewing Sardoff’s documentation, we took a look to see if there were similar complaints against CARFAX.

There sure were.

A quick Google search finds many consumers who claim there were odometer errors on their vehicles’ CARFAX reports.

Then there was the 2006 class action lawsuit, in which a plaintiff claimed CARFAX violated consumer protection laws by not disclosing its inability to check accident records in 23 states. That suit was settled in 2007, but the settlement was overturned in May 2010 by Ohio’s Supreme Court after it was challenged by consumer advocates Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety.

“They can abandon the case, they could decide to take the case to trial or they could reach a new settlement,” said Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety. He said there will be a status conference on the case in the next few months.

Back to Sardoff. We reached out to CARFAX, and company said it would take a look.

Later that day, CARFAX confirmed it received Sardoff’s emails, which came in late on weekend hours, but CARFAX wrote back just before 11 a.m. on Monday.

The email response said: “CARFAX receives electronically-submitted data records from over 34,000 data sources, and loads these records directly into its Vehicle History Report database as they are received. Because CARFAX does not receive any paper documents or perform any data entry, an error made by a data source may occasionally display on a CARFAX Vehicle History Report.”

Sardoff was instructed to download a “Consumer Data Correction Form” and fax or email it to the company, along with her proof of the correct mileage.

Sardoff said she sent the proof on Nov. 16, but she kept thinking about why those mistakes happened.

So she did some sleuthing of her own.

She received confirmation from the Motor Vehicle Commission, which said her last car inspection was June 8, 2009 with mileage of 19,992. There was no record of any inspection for her car on Dec. 3, 2010 for 35,853 miles, per the CARFAX report. She sent this document to CARFAX, too.

Then Sardoff did some hunting online, and came to another realization. Other CARFAX complaints said their odometers were reported in kilometers rather than miles. A conversion calculator shows there’s a good chance that Sardoff’s higher numbers were reported as kilometers.

We contacted CARFAX with the kilometer theory, and again the company said it would take a look.

“We’ll get this resolved quickly,” said spokesman Chris Basso.

But a week later, Sardoff still hadn’t heard back from the company, and quick is important.

The dealer has Sardoff’s deposit on the car she plans to buy, but she’s not sure how long the dealer will wait. If she has to order a different one, it would be more expensive, she said.

“I feel like I’m being screwed and I don’t like it,” she said.

Good news came the next day.

“I just got my new CARFAX report and it’s perfect,” Sardoff said. “I couldn’t have done this without you.”

But what should other customers do?

We asked CARFAX if it had tips for consumers who disputed their reports, but the spokesman didn’t return Bamboozled’s calls.

Mercedes has already agreed to renegotiate Sardoff’s trade-in based on the new CARFAX report.

We’ll let you know what happens.