How to spot signs of accident repair, rust or paint job when buying a used car
Looking at this used car in the photo, can you spot any signs of a recent paint job?
Can you spot a sign of a paint job?
Great! You are right, the rear door looks a bit darker. This is one sign, but how else can you tell if a used car has been repainted or damaged?
We have seen many used cars like this used car market. Some dealers will disclose a previous accident, but others might not even be aware. How can you check if a used car has been involved in an accident before? It's a three-step process:
1. Carefully inspect a car for signs of accident or rust repairs yourself; see more photos below.
2. Check the used car history records. Many accidents are reported and the used car history report may show this. Read how to check used car history
3. Have the used car properly inspected by a knowledgeable mechanic or a used car inspector before signing the deal.
Check how the hood, trunk lid and all the doors close
Check how body panels fit together
Check if the color of different panels match
The trick is to look from the distance and from different angles. This way it's easier to spot the difference.
Compare opposite sides
Check if the panels are lined up, look at the side reflection
Check the headlights
Watch out for difference in the paint texture
Look for paint overspray
Look for peeling paint
A peeling-off paint is another indicator of a poorly-done paint job. Often you can see a paint peeling off of one of the bumpers.
Check the bolts that hold the hood
Check the frame if it's a pickup truck
Avoid previously flooded cars
Avoid used cars that have been flooded. A flooded vehicle is more likely to develop various electrical problems and mold in the future. Flash floods are very common these days.
This car looks fairly clean and runs good, but something doesn't look right about this speaker cover. It shows a dirty water level mark. Was this car flooded?
We removed the rear trim piece from the center console to confirm. There's no questions this car has been flooded. You can see the water level marks on the inside of the trim piece. This car should be avoided. A history report can also reveal a previous flood damage. Be suspicious if the history report indicates that the car came from a recent flood zone.
Is it OK to buy a car that has rust damage?
Rust is a major issue in used cars, especially the ones that have been driven where salt is used on the roads in winter months. Unless a car has been properly rust proofed, any 7-10 year old and older car or truck from the Rust Belt will show some rust. Rust damage can be repaired temporarily, but once the corrosion process is started, it's very difficult to stop. The metal used in modern cars is better, but rust problems have not been eliminated. If a car had major rust spots repaired, the rust will re-appear later. More importantly, if the body shows rust on the outside, the underneath components are probably in a much worse shape. Check, for example, these brake lines, or this subframe. Both are a safety concern. Therefore, similarly, to previous accidents, major rust is something to be avoided in a used car.
Where does the rust usually start? You are more likely to find rust at the bottom edges of the doors and around the wheel wells. In this car, it's just starting, but in a few years this door will look bad if not treated. This rust spot has already been repaired and now the rust shows again. If you suspect a repaired rust spot, try sticking a small magnet; it won't stick if there is too much filler over the metal.
These transmission cooler lines are badly rusted, but you won't see them from the outside. In this car, they are tucked under the undershield, below the radiator.
These rusty lines can burst when scraping the curb while parking, on when driving over bumps, leaving you stranded. That's another reason why we recommend having a used car inspected by your mechanic before buying it.
Should you buy a car that has been in an accident? Unless it was a minor fender-bender like in this photo, we don't recommend it. 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 difficult to tell if a car has been repaired to the highest standards or was "patched up" for a quick sale.
This means that buying a car that has been restored after a serious accident is taking a chance. Were repairs done properly or the rust spots will appear after a year or two? Will the paint peel away or fade? Has the wheel alignment been done right or the tires will be wearing fast? Will the air conditioner still work after a few months? Was the front-sensing camera re-calibrated after windshield replacement?
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