Sure, Carfax is a good service, and I’ve used it for years to get general information on cars I’m looking to buy or give advice on. It’s not infallible, and it can’t tell you about accidents that weren’t reported to the police or the insurance company. The big problem with the service is that it requires a computer with internet access, something you’re not likely to have handy on a dealer’s lot.
Autopia discovered a few handy apps for smartphones and mobile devices, that may just give you the info you need on site to make a deal or walk away from one.
InstaVin allows you to text a VIN to 46782 (INSTA, of course), and for a $2.99 fee ($1.99 for your first report) the company will text you back a vehicle accident history report, as well as a real time local market value for the vehicle. If you want details on ownership history, title and registration, odometer readings and state inspection reports, InstaVin offers those as well, but for an additional fee of $6.99. No one said that accurate, real time data was cheap.
VIN Hunter, an app for the iPhone and iPod Touch, allows you to decode a car’s VIN to determine things like original color, original engine, factory installed options and trim level. It gives you a retail price, although it doesn’t claim to be based on local market data, and allows a one click purchase of a CarFax vehicle history report. VIN Hunter also allows you to rank vehicles being looked at (and include a thumbnail image), useful if you’re shopping for a specific year, make and model.
There are plenty of other apps available (Auto VIN Decoder, Vehicle VIN Search, VIN Report, etc.) but these are just pass though apps to purchase a Carfax report. Surprisingly enough, Carfax doesn’t have an app for smartphones, which is either an opportunity for an app developer or an extreme lack of foresight on behalf of Carfax.