How to check a used Car for accident damage

How to check a used Car for accident damage

This article gives pointers on ‘How to check a used car for accident damage’. There are a million cars out there in the market waiting to be sold out to another person. Cars come expensive, and a bad unit purchased can often break hearts! It’s a good idea to check a used car for post-accident repair work to know about its history before purchasing. Here are a few good ways to do so –

1. Do a background check, contact owner – Get in touch with the owner of the proposed car you wish to buy. Talk to the owner and try to bring him in confidence by generally conversing them, their work and lifestyle. Many owners don’t wish to disclose that they have claimed insurance to fix their car after an accident. Gradually tilt the conversation more and more towards the car you wish to know about.  Ask him about the insurance he owned and where did he get it from. After you know this valuable pieces of information, you may go check with the insurance firm to know if any insurance has been claimed. If yes, then it’d be a good idea to find out how extensive the damage was and how much was paid to do so. This will give you a clear idea of the car and it’s accident case.

2. Feel the body for dents and filler spots – Once a vehicle has been dented, it will never lose the dent entirely. It may be repaired by hammering the body from the other side or be repaired by more sophisticated methods, but upon closely examining such a spot, it is possible to see micro-irregularities and non-uniformity on the surface of the body. These are clues enough to realize that repairs have been carried out on the car. Separate paint-jobs can be easily realized by feeling the body for such filler spots. They are rough and often less glossy than the original paint, however these days the paint-jobs can regenerate the original texture and finding out such irregularities on top-end maintained models can be very tricky.

There is a remarkable difference between the texture and the paint-job of the hood and the bumper. The bumper sports the glossy original paint, while the hood is a post-accident work repair. It’s a subtle clue, but one needs to be cautious.

3. Look for details here – the fender, bumper and windshield – If the car has been through an accident or an impact event, the bumper, fender and windshield areas are the sure-shot mutilated places. Look for irregularities on paint jobs, and areas where the paint-job has a bad finish. This shows a high evidence of a job done by mechanic or a probable human rectification. If damages on these areas are conspicuous, there are good chances that the car has been through an accident and an attempt has been made by the owner to hide it from the next buyer.

4. The underneath of the car should be regularly shaped when seen from one side of the car. For example, sit down in front of the car and have a look beneath the car longitudinally. The car must appear straight and regular all the way to other end, up till the fuel tank. If there is an irregularity, it’s a sure shot case of either repairs by hammering and denting, or perhaps an older unrectified accident involving the camber, axles, shaft and other relevant parts found on the underside of the vehicle. Since the are underneath is the least inspected places by potential buyers, this can be a good way to gather clues about the physical history of a vehicle.

Looking from the rear of the vehicle, notice the slight tilt of the chassis towards left and the irregular dent on the fuel tank

5. Examine the gap between vehicle doors and panels – The gaps between doors and the body is uniform in a brand new car. If the vehicle has been through an accident, this uniformity of the width of the gaps can be compromised. If there are dents and the width is fluctuating, it’s a sure shot sign of a previous accident which has been rectified by the owner. Replacement of doors after an accident can cause misalignment and hence varying width in the gaps. Twisted metal is hard to bring back to its original casted form. A dent is basically a twist, which creates difference in the uniformity of the door gaps. It’s very difficult to regain the original shape of the surface of the dented metal of the car without melting and reforming it. One can use this fact to effectively look for clues while examining micro areas of the vehicle which lie between the door and it’s body.

A visibly misaligned door gap.

6. Dome lights inoperable if one door remains open – Another good clue to detect a post-accident repair. By accident we don’t always mean a crumpled, unusable vehicle, but any unintended change in the vehicle that hinders its original performance. Inoperable dome light is a good clue of a change in wiring, or negligence in electrical repairs, specially, if all other doors seem to operate the dome light barring one or two. Similarly, the central locking system irregularity should ring bells. One door not locking or unlocking while others lock or unlock offer similar situations. Blown fuses can be condoned as they are meant to work for a system as a whole, not for each unit like a door etc. It points towards electrical wiring disturbances or negligence in repairs, which either ways point to a post-accident repair. Power windows could also very similarly point towards an accident.

 By accident we don’t always mean a crumpled, unusable vehicle, but any unintended change in the vehicle that hinders its original performance, looks and aesthetics.

7. Irregular sounds from the vehicle – Open the hood, and run the car with the AC unit on. Examine the sounds that emanate from the rotating fan, the timing belt, the cylinders and the air-conditioner unit. If you don’t know which part is where, it’s a good idea to bring along your own mechanic for this purpose to help you assess the condition of your proposed user car. Any sounds other than the sound of an idling engine could mean either imminent wear and tear, or a negligent repair work. Have it inspected by a mechanic before you commit to such a vehicle. The louder and more unusual the sound from under the hood, the worse your problem could be.

8. Look for missing bolts along the side rails of the hood – These bolts are used to attach the front fenders to the chassis of the vehicle. If these bolts are missing or misaligned, it indicates either a post-accident repair work, or a negligence in repairing. The head of the bolts used are usually painted and match the body paint. In case of repairs done, missing patches of the paint on the heads of these bolts indicate an accident as well.

9. The finger test to test paint-jobs – A car that is being repaired is often stripped off its paint. Hereon, the next coating that will come will feel rough. In the manufacturing process of cars, the painting is done before everything else, and hence the car has no ‘rough feel’ to it and finger slides on smoothly. However, a paint-job following an accident can never be the same. The owner tries to even out the original paint with the new paint so that the car appears original to look at. This can be detected using just your finger. Simply run your hands over the surface of the car, concentrating more on the ridge of the roof, hood rail and boot rail as shown in the picture below. Any roughness, lack of luster on texture will indicate a new paint-job. An a new paint-job could mean post-accident repairs.

Examining cars for such damages is a must. Some of us are overcome by the sheer excitement of buying a car, and so mesmerized by the way it is displayed by the dealers, that they assume everything is OK. Before you get a shocker of your life, it is highly recommended that you check and double-check each car you intend to buy. Hire a mechanic for a small fee if need be, and have him check it for you. It’s better to know that you did your job well before you settle in for a nasty surprise later. It’ll save you the guilt that you screwed up.


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Written by Aru Raghuvanshi

Aru Raghuvanshi