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Used Car Buying Tips: How To Check If A Car Has Been In An Accident?

01/14/2015 17:56:40
When shopping for a car, there are a few ways to determine if it's had prior paint work. There are tricks and techniques to assist you examining the cars before taking the final decision. They will help you avoid buying something you didn't expect.

Buying a used vehicle can save you lots of money (some cars have a market value that's up to 25-30% below their original list price when only one year old!), but can also lead you to trouble. Hundreds of car accidents happen every day, yet how often do you see a used car advertised as "Restored After Accident?" Damaged cars are restored and brought back to the used car market. Learn some more today so you don't inherit someone else's headache of an accident repaired vehicle.


When shopping for a car, there are a few ways to determine if it's had prior paint work. There are tricks and techniques to assist you examining the cars before taking the final decision. They will help you avoid buying something you didn't expect.


Physical inspection of the car to check for defects, rust and also paintwork that is not factory paint. See what to look for in a car's paint job to uncover clues about the car's accident history and resale value.



1. Color Test

Take a close look at the vehicle and see if any of the panels appear to be a different color than others. It's not uncommon that the repaired parts can be a slightly different color than its adjoining panels. The reason is that aftermarket paint process is different than that of the factory and oftentimes, that newly painted panel will fade slightly. But be careful with plastic bumpers, because even the factory paint on a plastic bumper can appear slightly different than on a metal fender.

If you can see that the paint texture 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.



2. Finger Test. Tape lines.

After doing a visual inspection, the next thing to do is to perform a Finger Test – to run your finger along the edges of doors, windows and the back edge of the hood. Factory paint is applied before anything else, so it goes on smooth and even, but if you feel it's rough or bumpy this means there has been an after market painting done.



3. Reflection Can Tell A Lot. Car Body Lines

If you can see some unevenness in the reflection of the body of the car, some visible ripples – you are looking at the damaged vehicle. It's the easiest way to quickly spot signs of a body repair or a paint job – to look at the reflection.



4. Watch Out For Rust

Rust is another big issue with used cars, especially in the areas where salt is used in winter months. In some cars, you will see just a few spots here and there; in others, the car can be rusted all through. Be careful and double check it. Remember that rust spots can be repaired but it's only temporarily because 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. 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.



5. Sanding Marks

If some part of the car was dented and has been repaired, the usual procedure for repairing it will be

filling the dented area with a “bondo”, which is a polyester resin, that is put in the dent and sanded to match the original shape of the panel. Usually if you look closely at a panel, you can see the sanding marks underneath the paint. This is a sure sign of aftermarket paintwork as a result of an accident.



6. Look For Paint Overspray

At the factory, the new car body is painted before anything is installed on it. But if you can see that the door wiring harness, for example, has some paint sprayed on it, which is an indication of a body repair. Places to examine carefully for overspray are the inside of the wheel wells, under the hood, and if the front end has been painted you will often see overspray on the radiator or rad supports.



7. Find The Vin Plates

All cars have VIN plates on all the panels for identification purposes. If you come across a panel that does not have a VIN plate it may mean that the panel was replaced with an aftermarket one. You should also check the VIN plates for traces of paint, which could be another indication of overspray that did not exist when the car was originally painted.



8. Drips Or Runs In The Paint

If the aftermarket body man is not very good you may even be able to see drips or runs in the paint. Another symptom is a so-called “fish-eye” in the paint - this is a small circular blemish, usually caused by some oil getting onto the paint before it was dry.



9. Check The Bolts And Screws

Open the hood and take a close look at the bolts that hold the hood hinges. The paint may be scathed off the bolt head. This means that the hood was either replaced or readjusted from its original position. There was some body repair here.



10. Check How Body Panels Fit Together. 

See If The Color Of Different Panels Match

Car's doors, when closed, should be perfectly flush with other panels. The same for the hood, trunk lid and other panels. If something is loose or has a mismatching color – well, there it is. A car that has been in an accident.



11. Compare Opposite Sides

There is a good tip for inspecting a car: if something doesn't look right, compare it to another side, look from different angles to spot what is not in order.




12. Avoid Previously Flooded Cars

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.



There are a surprisingly high percentage of vehicles on the road that have had aftermarket paint work done to them. The majority of those are as a result of an accident. However, some are painted through personal choice. Remember, however, that just because a car has had an accident, it does not mean it is a bad car. Many “fender-benders” are relatively minor and the car will serve you well for years to come.


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