Many disgruntled consumers call my office after getting bad news from Carfax or a similar car history reporting service. They’ve been told their cars were previously wrecked, had odometers rolled back, been issued salvage titles in faraway states and a variety of other unsavory things. One of the first things I have to explain to people is that the car history report is not admissible in court. This does not sink your case – it just means you have more work to do if the report is accurate.
Carfax and other reporting agencies often miss information. And, occasionally, they report incorrect information. After all, a Vehicle Identification Number contains 17 characters and a mere typo of one figure can send information about one car into another car’s file.
The most important question? Is the car history report accurate? And this goes to why the report itself is not admissible in court. Anyone who has ever watched television has heard an attorney leap to his feet and object, “Hearsay!” when a witness is asked what he or she heard someone else say. Without getting too complicated here, Hearsay is an out of court statement being offered in court by someone other than the one who made it, if it is being offered for the truth of the matter asserted. That is the easiest way to define it. I'm sorry.
Hearsay can take many forms and one of them is in writing. If I am testifying about something I wrote, I can produce the document and testify about it. A document written by someone else? Generally, you’d need to get the person that wrote the document to come in and testify about it – otherwise, it would be considered hearsay.
Who “wrote” the Carfax report? A company called Carfax. Are you going to subpoena Carfax and have them send a representative in to testify about the report? In theory you could, but you’ll find an easier solution than that.
Look at the Carfax (or equivalent) report and see what the information is on the report that is relevant to your case. Did it come from a state DMV or Secretary of State? If so, you can most likely order a certified copy of the official record which is probably where Carfax got their information. And, most states allow for certified copies of official records to be introduced into evidence as an exception to the hearsay rules.
What if the report contains information that came from a private source, like an insurance company? That might be a little harder, but an attorney can help you with that. You may end up dropping a subpoena on an insurance company to get their records and if it comes to that, find a way to get them into evidence. But keep in mind that the Carfax and other history reports are not the final word on any of this. They are merely the starting point for your investigation. And if you get into court, the Carfax report itself will be left far behind.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.