Should I Be Worried If a Used Car Has an Incomplete Service History on Carfax?

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 discussing service records on history reports, the future resale value of gas-powered cars and grabbing the last six-cylinder Outback.


First up, is it a bad sign if CarFax is displaying limited maintenance on cars with 30,000 miles or more?

“Used car dealer websites often provide a Carfax report with every vehicle listing. I have found it common that leased vehicles, 3-5 years old, 35-45k miles, have 1 or even no maintenance service noted by Carfax. As I search for a new-to-me vehicle, should I be concerned that a 3-5-year-old car with ~40k miles has a Carfax report indicating limited maintenance? Surely oil changes, tire rotations, or other routine maintenance items would show up on a Carfax report, correct?”

CarFax, and other history reports like Autocheck, are good tools to help filter your used cars, but they do not tell the whole story and in some cases can contain incorrect or incomplete information. Those services are only as good as the data that they pull from. While most dealers record the service intervals of a car and it does show up on the history report, just because it’s not on the report doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

In the case of luxury cars that have been factory certified, often there is an internal paper trail of the service intervals and usually, part of the qualifications for the CPO label is regular maintenance history. So you may be able to request this from the dealer.

Of course what it really comes down to is the advice that I give all the time: If you are concerned about the condition or history of the car, get it inspected. If a car was abused, neglected, or in an accident that didn’t show up on the history report, a good inspection can reveal those trouble spots.

Next up, with EVs becoming more popular what will the resale value be like on a gas powered car?

“I started reading Jalopnik recently and thought you might have some good insight into ICE vs. EVs, especially since I just bought a new car (2019 Jeep Cherokee).

Do you think ICE cars will still be viable a decade from now? So far I love this car and intend to drive it into the ground, but I didn’t think about the future of EVs, ICE regulation, cost of gas vs. electric, etc. until after I bought it.

Should I plan to trade-in in the 2020s and move towards an EV? Or will I be able to drive this car until it kicks the bucket? And what about autonomous cars? Will that tech affect how most people feel about car ownership in general?

I know these are very broad questions, but I’m a little nervous that I made the wrong decision by buying an ICE in 2019.”


This is an interesting question and, while it is true that consumers are shifting towards EVs and plug-ins, that shift is still fairly slow and the vast majority of cars sold are still ICE models. There will come a point where EVs proliferate on our roadways but I think that point is much farther in the future than some other industry analysts predict.

The reason being is that no one really seems to address what happens to EVs once they hit that “affordable” market around $15,000 or under. Right now EVs are pretty undesirable to folks shopping for cheap cars. The charging infrastructure is practically nonexistent, not everyone has the means or the living situation to install a home charger, and battery replacement costs are very high while you can rebuild and replace a gas motor on an older car for not an extreme amount of money.


Now your Jeep Cherokee is going to depreciate because it’s a Jeep Cherokee, regardless of the popularity of EVs, but you will still be able to find a buyer ten years from now providing your Jeep is in good shape and priced right.


And finally when would be a good time to score a deal on the last Outback with the flat-six?

“I’m going to be in the market for a new Outback this fall, but it’s not exactly time critical. My 2009 2.5i only has 105k on the clock, so I can afford to sit on my thumbs for 6-9 months waiting for the optimum time to buy.

I’m targeting a new 2019 3.6R Limited with a few options - floor mats, splash guards, that kind of thing. I have reservations about the long term maintenance costs of the new XT since I tend to keep my cars for 10+ years, and I’m generally nervous about buying an entirely new drivetrain in its maiden year.

Plus, I figure the two local dealers are going to be eager to unload any remaining 3.6 inventory they have once the sexy new turbos start showing up.

Can you give me an idea of ideal time frames to target where I’ll have the optimum intersection of dealer inventory, factory incentives, and dealer cash? Is it in early fall, when the new models show up? End of the year, with all of the usual incentives? Spring, when the last few 2019's are still hanging around?”


One of the mistakes a lot of car buyers make when their objective is to get a deal on a leftover model is waiting until the new car shows up. What they don’t realize is that the automakers and dealers will start the heavy discounts on the older car months in advance. The dealers don’t want to wait until the truck shows up with the new cars to put the previous ones on sale because they might be in a situation where they don’t have the space for the 2020 models.

If the 2020 Outback is due in the Fall, Summer is your ideal time to shop the 2019 models that way you have plenty of inventory to pick from and can get the right color and options along with scoring the best deal. If you wait too long the inventory will thin out and you might not get your ideal configuration.


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

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (



Incomplete history:

I’d believe most cars have an incomplete history. Remember, anyone can change oil and rotate tires. Mom and pop shops don’t always report, heck even dealers don’t always report. Once a car is out of warranty, there is no incentive not do do these things yourself if you are mechanically inclined. You could pull a carfax on any of my cars and you wouldn’t find a thing for the last 100,000+mi on any of them. Doesn’t mean they are neglected or abused. If I were selling, you’d get a huge amount of records, both paper and electronic that you could view. I even record every fuel refill so while the carfax will be woefully incomplete, take a look at the records that are available and you’d see any of them are actually great cars.