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Experian shares data paths to its vehicle histories, panel weighs data mining pros and cons

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Business Practices
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An Experian Automotive executive shared last week during a Collision Industry Conference (CIC) panel the ways in which they seek out data for vehicle history reports, and how the company believes it improves data by working with dealers, vehicle auction businesses, and body shops through that process.

Experian was asked by the Data Access Privacy and Security Committee to speak on an often-discussed issue within the industry over the last five years — how customer data generated by repair facilities results in a vehicle history entry or accident report.

Dan Risley, CCC Intelligent Solutions vice president of quality repair and market development, told the audience in Seattle at the April 17 CIC meeting that CCC gets one complaint a month about data being reported to a vehicle history reporting company such as Carfax.

Aaron Schulenburg, the Society of Collision Repair Specialists executive director, began a firsthand test of how inaccurate information makes it onto vehicle history reports in 2018, and recently tested the dispute process to correct or remove erroneous data.

In June of 2018, Schulenburg gave a repair facility the VIN off his truck and had them write a test repair plan with the first line stating, “This estimate has been written for training. No damage on the vehicle.”

“Thirty days later, I have a vehicle history report on my truck for an incident that never occurred,” he told the CIC meeting audience. “There was a mechanism to fix it. I had chosen not to do that [until recently] to kind of see how the conversation evolved.”

When the CIC committee first met with Experian, they learned that data collected and reported varies by company. Schulenburg checked and the test estimate was still actively reflected on his truck’s vehicle history report from Carfax but not on Experian’s AutoCheck report.

The Carfax report, as of earlier this year, showed a June 2018 damage report defined as minor damage without any other details provided.

Schulenburg walked through the steps of asking Carfax for a correction. That involves providing the correction type, details about why the correction is being requested, and accident damage then attaching a copy of the report. Users must also agree to terms and conditions that include allowing Carfax, its employees, and agents to gain access to any information with the VIN in question.

It took receiving three “failed to submit” error messages before the request could be submitted, Schulenburg said. The inaccurate information was removed after about 10 days.

Schulenburg said, “How many consumers are persistent like that? How many are going to go through and fill out and submit again? How many are going to wait? How many are going to want to give that authorization ‘You can use my VIN, [have] access to that history, and defend against me in a court of law if you decide to?’

“There are resolution processes. They are not necessarily, whether unintentionally or by design, easy to go through as a consumer. I think it’s just important that we recognize what that looks like from a firsthand experience.”

Experian Vice President of M&A and Business Development Ed Pontis said data collection by Experian starts with the vehicle’s title and registration, which fall under several data use regulations.

Carfax has been invited several times by the committee to participate in discussions at CIC meetings, including last week’s, but hasn’t agreed to come, according to Trent Tinsley, the committee’s co-chair.

According to Pontis, there are:

    • 1.2 million Experian AutoChecks completed a year out of 300 million vehicles in the U.S.
    • 400 million accidents in Experian’s AutoCheck database
    • 17 million accidents a year

“Probably our biggest source of data comes from when an accident is reported by the states via local police departments,” Pontis said. “We get it [data] from auctions and some from body shops.”

Ed Pontis

He added that Experian does sometimes collect data from body shops, and unless consumers or franchise dealers provide the data, the vehicle owner isn’t going to find out where it was collected from.

“The auctions are a huge source of data and business for us. We have unique data that comes from the auctions because they do their inspections so about 3.5 million more records that come directly from the auction space.”

Experian has “connections” and works with organizations that collect police reports in addition to pulling data from parts suppliers, Pontis said. Experian knows that certain parts are only bought if there is an accident, he said.

After data is collected, each vehicle receives an “AutoCheck Score,” which Pontis explained provides the probability percentage that the vehicle will still be on the road in five years. If the score is low, Experian sends the information to banks that provide vehicle loans.

As the data continues to trickle further out, there are more and more organizations that have collected data that Experian uses, Pontis said.

AutoCheck members can request a correction or removal of data online under the “Dispute” tab on Non-members can call Experian to make the request.

Consumers aren’t told where Experian got the data from but, as long as they have the right information to provide to prove the error(s), their reports will be updated, Pontis said.

Pete Tagliapietra, managing director of DataTouch, said his company has found other sources of data on vehicle history reports to be from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Insurance Services Office (ISO), and new car dealer management systems.

Pete Tagliapietra

Data is gathered from parts information and photos of VINs taken by towing companies at accident scenes. According to DataTouch’s findings, Tagliapietra said parts information provides over 25% of what Carfax uses for its reports.

“Any time you generate a parts list without an estimate, there’s a good probability it’s still going to end up on a vehicle history report and it’s going to have a damage assessment associated with it because of the information that’s tied together,” Tagliapietra said.

“Even the information technology companies in our own supply chain are licensing data back to companies like this. It’s a very difficult situation for us to get our arms around and really be able to provide some level of mitigation to the issue.”

In some cases, Pontis added, either Carfax or Experian may have exclusive rights under contract to certain data meaning their vehicle history reports can vary in the details provided.

Scott Benavidez, Mr. B’s Paint & Body Shop owner, shared an example of an incorrect damage report on one of his customer’s vehicles. Frame damage was reported when it didn’t exist, diminishing the value of her vehicle by $6,000, he said. The report was corrected.

“But for a customer to do that, we don’t see that often,” Benavidez said. “That’s 1 in 100 that will come in and go to that extra effort to get that done. That frame damage could have been on that vehicle forever and still be transferred.”

Scott Benavidez

Pontis said Experian is working on figuring out how to collect and report the correct data. However, he said, repairers should consider the impact of not sharing data at all.

“The impact is worse than if I share the right information and get that process correct,” Pontis said.

Benavidez called it a conundrum that shops face.

“Do we give them that data? And my first answer to that was, ‘Hell no, not any data.’ We don’t want to give them data until you start to think about it as a logical business owner saying, ‘I do use OEM parts, I do fix that vehicle correctly. Do I want that corrected stuff on a report and not just some falsehood on the report?'”

Tagliapietra noted the consequences of estimate data showing up is substantive because it also goes out to insurance company underwriters for the purpose of creating premiums for not only vehicle owners but for the specific vehicle in question.

During the Q&A portion of the committee’s panel discussion, an audience member suggested shops have customers sign a document that says if an estimate is written, the data might be shared through varying sources and could end up with companies like Carfax and Experian for which shops wouldn’t be responsible for.


Featured image credit: coffeekai/iStock

CIC Data Access Privacy and Security panelists Scott Benavidez, Pete Tagliapietra, and Ed Pontis discuss data collection for vehicle history reports with Committee Co-Chair Trent Tinsley on April 17, 2024 in Seattle, Washington. (Lurah Lowery/Repairer Driven News)

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