November 16, 2011, 10:54 AM

A simple scan reveals a car’s history

Carfax’s new iPhone app uses the smartphone’s camera for data entry.

Lead Photo

The app lets uses check a vehicle's history by entering a license plate number, typing in a 17-digit code or by scanning the code with the phone's camera.

Used car shoppers who want to run a Carfax vehicle history report while at a car dealership no longer need to pinch and zoom their smartphone screens to navigate a full-sized web site or enter a 17-digit vehicle identification number, or VIN. Carfax has released an iPhone app that can, among other things, scan a VIN using the smartphone’s built-in camera. Users also can type the VIN or license plate number and issuing state into the app to generate a report.

Reports show the number of previous owners, where the car has been titled and any service records automobile dealers submitted to Carfax. Carfax also turned on its m-commerce site last week that enables users to enter a 17-digit VIN or license plate to generate a report. Carfax reports cost $34.99 for one or $44.99 for five.

Reports made with either mobile Carfax service are displayed in the phone’s screen and sent to the user’s email address.

“Today, so many people are shopping on the go,” a Carfax spokesman says. “Carfax is tailored to help people quickly determine whether the car they’re looking at is the one they want to continue to pursue or look for another that fits their needs better.” Approximately 40 million used cars are bought and sold annually in the United States, Carfax says.

The app’s home page is uncluttered, with buttons across the top to let the user select how he wants to obtain the VIN, such as by typing in the license plate number, scanning the VIN attached to the car or typing in the VIN. A consumer using the Carfax m-commerce site has two options, to type in the license plate number or the VIN. The site cannot access the smartphone's camera. State motor vehicle departments associate VINs with the license plate registered to the car, Carfax says. Carfax developed the app and m-commerce site in-house.

“Anytime you’re doing something with mobile access, simple, fast and convenient are the three characteristics you need to take into account,” the spokesman says. Car shoppers no longer want to wait to research a prospective vehicle. “They’re not taking a day to do it,” he says. “They’re doing it when they find the time.”

Carfax anticipates releasing an Android version of the app, but does not have a timeframe.

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