How to inspect a car body when buying a used car

Watch out for mismatched colors and difference in paint texture

Car body lines

Look closely at the quality of the paint. A fresh paint may have a different texture, or signs of a body repair could be noticeable under the paint. In this photo you can see sandpaper marks that are painted over, which is a clear sign of a previous body repair. Click on the photo to see the larger image.

Car with visible ripples

In this photo you can see that the paint texture of this door is not very smooth - there was some body repair here. Feel the paint surface with your hand; the original paint finish should be perfectly smooth, while the repainted panel may feel slightly rough and uneven.

See if the color of different panels match

Color looks the same

Another way to spot a previous body repair is to compare colors of different panels and see if they don't match. The trick is to look from different angles. Here everything looks right, but a look from the different angle shows an entirely different picture (see photo below).

Mismatched colors

The front fender is a bit darker, meaning this Toyota has gone through some body repair. Here is another trick: sometimes it's easier to spot mismatched colors by looking from a distance.

Look for paint overspray

Paint overspray

At the factory, the new car body is painted before anything is installed on it. This means that any plastic trim or wiring should not show any signs of paint. Here, however, you can see that the door wiring harness has some white paint sprayed on it, which is an indication of a body repair.

Paint overspray

Here is another example: if you look closely, a small area of this door trim shows signs of a white paint. This car obviously had a recent paint job.

Check the bolts that connect the hood to the hinges

Color looks the same

Here is another tip: open the hood and check the bolts that hold the hood hinges. Here you can clearly see that this bolt has been scratched. This means that the hood was either replaced or readjusted from its original position. There was some body repair here.

Mismatched colors

This is how these bolts should look like originally. As you can see, these bolts have never been touched after the vehicle was painted at the assembly plant.

Watch out for rust

Rust spot

A few small spots like this is not a big deal, but watch out for major rust.

Major rust

This rust spot has already been repaired and now it's rusted again. If the car has major rust spots like this, avoid it. If you suspect a repaired rust spot, try to stick a small magnet; it won't stick if there is too much filler and very little metal.

Avoid previously flooded cars

Flooded cars
New Orleans, La. Photo: Marty Bahamonde/FEMA

You should definitely avoid used cars that have been flooded in the past. A flooded vehicle is more likely to develop various electrical problems and mold in the future.

Signs of a flood damage in a used car

This car looks fairly clean and runs good, but something doesn't look right about this speaker mesh. It looks like a dirty water level mark. Was this car flooded?

Signs of a flood damage in a used car

To confirm we removed the rear trim piece from the center console. There's no questions this car was flooded and 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.