How to inspect a car body when buying a used car
Hundreds of car accidents happen every day, yet how often do you see a used car advertised as "Restored After Accident?"
Do all damaged cars get scrapped? What happens to them?
Yes, some cars are written off and squashed or stripped for parts, but others are restored and brought back to the used car market.
Is it possible to restore a damaged car so well that it will be difficult to spot any signs of an accident?
Of course, any car can be restored even after a very serious collision so that it would be very difficult to notice any difference. Check these two photos - this is the same car. It has struck a guard rail and rolled over, landing on its roof (left photo).
The right photo shows the same car after it has been restored - hold your cursor over the images to see larger photos.
How can you check if a used car has been previously involved in an accident? This is a three-step process:
• The first step is to check the used car history records. Most accidents are reported and the used car history report may show you that the "clean" used car you were about to buy had been damaged in a serious accident before. Many "bad" used cars can be filtered out from your list this way. Read how to check used car history
• The second step is to carefully inspect a used car for signs of previous accidents or corrosion yourself. Is it difficult to spot signs of previous accidents? It's not easy, but if you know what to look for, you might be able to catch some telltale signs - we wrote this guide to help you. Read and see photos below.
• The last step is to have a used car properly inspected by a knowledgeable mechanic or used car inspector.
• Rust damage
• Reflection can tell a lot
• Check how different panels fit together
• Compare opposite sides of the car
• Watch out for mismatched colors and difference in paint texture
• Look for paint overspray
• See if any of the body panels have been moved
• Watch out for rust
• Check for signs of flood damage
• Have a car properly inspected
Should you buy a car that has been in an accident?
The short answer is no, unless it was some minor fender-bender. We don't want to say that a damaged car cannot be restored to a like-new condition; there are plenty of collision repair shops that do an excellent job. The problem is that for an average buyer it's very difficult to determine if a car has been repaired to the highest standards or was just quickly "patched up" for a fast sale. This means that buying a car that has been restored after an accident is taking a chance. Were repairs done properly or rust spots will appear after a year or two? Was the wheel alignment done right or will the car "eat" tires? Will the air conditioner still work after a few months? Will the paint peel away or fade?
Rust is another issue with used cars, especially in the areas where salt is used in winter months. Unless a car has been properly rust proofed, any 5-6 year old and older car or truck from the 'rust belt' will show at least some rust. In some cars, you will see just a few spots here and there; in others, you might see rusted through floors, body panels or brake components. Rust spots can be repaired temporarily but once the corrosion process is started, it's very difficult to stop. If a car had major rust spots repaired, the rust will re-appear later. Therefore, similarly, to previous accidents, major rust is something to avoid in a used car.
Reflection can tell a lot
When you are checking a used car, it's a lot easier to do if it is clean and dry.
Start with a visual inspection; look at a car from different angles and alongside of the vehicle to check if everything looks straight and colors and paint texture of different panels match. As you can see, the lines of this blue Mercedes-Benz are perfectly straight; this Mercedes-Benz has never been in an accident. Look at the reflection: it is flawless; there are no ripples and the paint texture of all panels looks the same. Look at the door moldings; they form a perfect straight line too.
Now have a look at this red Toyota paying particular attention to its rear fender. You can notice some ripples in the reflection, therefore, you can suspect that this rear fender has been damaged. Again, it could have been just a minor fender bender repair, but if you notice some damage, you might want to ask your mechanic to look at it closely during a pre-purchase inspection. To compare, check the other side of the car the same way.
Check how body panels fit together
See how different body panels fit together. For example, the doors, when closed should be perfectly flush with other panels. The same for the hood, trunk lid and other panels. Look at this blue Dodge in the left photo, its rear door is not flush when closed. Look at the Chevy Malibu in the right photo, you can see that the front bumper came loose and if you look closely, the bumper has a slightly different color too. Was there a body repair? Very likely. If you notice something like this, the area should be looked at more carefully.
Compare opposite sides
If something doesn't look right, compare it to another side of the car or to a different car of the same model. For example, this used Pontiac Vibe was offered for sale at a large new-car dealership. A salesperson told us that they just got this car. While checking it closely, we found that the gap between the front fender and the door looks wide on the right side. Checking the left side showed a totally different picture; the gap was almost non-existent as you can see in these photos. After further inspection we found that this car has been sideswiped, so its entire front end has shifted to one side. When we pointed this to
a used car manager, he apologized and took the car off sale. Turns out they haven't noticed this problem when they got this car from a wholesale auction.
This black Toyota in the second pair of photos was sold at another dealership. The salesperson was honest and mentioned that the vehicle has been restored after an accident; the car was priced much lower. Compare these two photos, could you see which side of this car has been hit?
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