A CBC iTeam investigation reveals that CarFax, a company that does checks on the history of used cars, is missing critical information in some of its searches.

Used car shoppers frequently pay a fee to CarFax to find the history of a vehicle before closing the deal. The key to the searches is the "vehicle identification number" — called a VIN — which is stamped on every vehicle in plain view.

CBC News recorded these ID numbers from nine vehicles in Saskatchewan. A CarFax report came up with no record of any accidents. But a similar search by another company, CarProof, uncovered multiple crash reports on five of the same vehicles.

In fact, one of the cars had damage totalling $23,000. CarFax would not tell CBC what databases it uses to compile its reports.

SGI distances itself from both companies

SGI said neither company has access to Saskatchewan crash records. 

Both companies said they manually go on to SGI's website to find that information. 

Kelley Brinkworth is with SGI.  She said people should start with SGI's web search first.

"Even if you don't know where the vehicle is from, it's there for you. It's free," she said.

It's $10 dollars to do a cross-Canada search. The Saskatchewan Automobile Dealers' Association said it pays to check multiple sources. 

And in the end, it also advised that a mechanic check a vehicle before you buy.

What about flood damage?

Look for Witness MarksThese are water marks left behind when the moisture recedes after a flood. You can pull the "kick" panels off the dash board and look to see if there are tell tale signs of high water. These include green corrosion marks or a water line.

Electrical IssuesCheck to see if warning lights persist on the dashboard. The SRS indicator can mean the Supplemental Restraint System, or air bag system, is malfunctioning. Many electrical modules, including the SRS, are located under the car seats. So water damage is likely to affect these systems.

CarpetingPeel back the carpeting or underlay in the vehicle. Normal snow or rain on shoes will not soak through carpet. If there is abnormal water damage, you will see mould or corrosion under the carpet.

LocationIf the vehicle is from Alberta and Manitoba, it could have sustained fresh water flood damage which if the proper steps are taken, can be restored. Vehicles from coastal regions are susceptible to salt water damage which causes much more damage.

WarrantyMake sure you buy from a reputable dealer that will put a warranty or service plan in place if required.

Have the vehicle checked by a trusted dealer or technician. Reputable sellers will be fine with this. It will cost about $125, and about 150 items will be inspected so you will know the current condition of the vehicle, and what can be expected down the road.

RestorationIf a vehicle HAS suffered fresh water flood damage, it does not mean the damage is irreparable. If the seats, panels, and carpet are taken out and dried immediately, and the electrical modules are dried immediately or replaced, the vehicle can be restored properly. The key is this must happen as soon as possible after the damage occurs.

SOURCE: Allan Jacobs, Titan Automotive Group