How Does CarFax Really Know How Many Owners A Car Had?

We're also talking about paint protection film and relocation sales

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As Jalopnik’s resident car buying expert and professional car shopper, I get emails. Lots of emails. I’ve decided to pick a few questions and try to help out. This week we are talking about multiple “owners” on history reports, paint protection film, and where to sell a car if you are moving.

First, are those multiple owners on history reports real?

I am curious about how CARFAX assigns an “Owner” to a car. Sometimes it says it has had four owners, but when I read through the report, some of those owners turn out to be different dealers or businesses. How does that work? Thanks for your help!


Vehicle history reports aren’t always the most accurate in determining an actual “new owner.” Sometimes it’s a new owner, sometimes it’s a dealer transfer, sometimes it’s the same owner who moved to another state.

I don’t get too caught up with the number of owners on a history report. As David discussed in an earlier post the obsession with “one owner” cars is a bit silly. What you are really concerned with is the condition and a good inspection will tell you more than how many times it has changed hands.


Next, is paint protection film worth the investment?

We recently purchased a new car (Tesla Model 3) and having seen how badly the paint has chipped and scraped on our BMW after two years on LA roads, I was thinking about getting a PPF on the new car. Even more so because I’ve heard Tesla’s paint jobs are not up to the standard of established OEMs. Wondered if you had any experience with customers on this (either on boosting trade in value when selling or issues buying a used car with a PPF installed) and thoughts on whether it’s worth it? The cost for a “partial” cover (front and rear fenders, mirrors, partial hood) seems to run at about $900.


I’ve had a few customers install PPF on their cars and while it doesn’t guarantee a higher resale value it won’t detract from it either. As for whether or not it’s worth it that is really your call when weighing the cost versus protection on your car.

Finally, if you are relocating and don’t need your car anymore where do you sell it?

I am moving from one part of the country where they don’t give a shit about public transportation to a part where they do, and from a place where it never snows to a place where it regularly snows. I want to go down to one car, and the car I want to sell is a FWD Explorer.

Where should I sell my car? Deep South City or Up North City?

If it’s a front-wheel-drive car you will likely have an easier time moving it in the South, and that is one less thing to haul with you when you go North.


That is unless, of course, you’re plan on using the Ford as your moving car in which case you can probably offload it to CarMax or something.

This story was originally published on February 14, 2020.

Got a car buying conundrum that you need some assistance with? Email me at!