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How to Check When a Used Car has Been in an Accident

By: StaffPublished August 26, 2021

Look for Signs of Repair

The easiest way to tell if a used car has been in an accident is to look for signs of repair. Even if a repair has been done properly, there’s usually evidence, such as misaligned body panels. Look at the car’s seams — where the hood meets the fenders and grille, where the trunk lid meets the rear haunches, where the doors line up. Basically, walk around the car and follow the seams between every panel, looking for places where the gap is distinctly uneven or a piece of sheet metal doesn’t sit flush with the adjacent pieces. These are signs that a panel’s been damaged — it’s very hard to repair or replace a piece of a car’s body and make it look completely original. Even if the damage was relatively minor, like a scrape or a door ding, removing that panel breaks the factory sealant that protects against corrosion.

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Check the Paint

As you’re walking around the car examining the body seams, check out the paint quality, too. Pay attention to factors such as color and texture consistency from area to area; a noticeable difference indicates the paint isn’t the same age, meaning it’s been repaired. If there’s overspray on trim pieces, badges, or rubber weatherstripping, it means the paint in that area isn’t original. Any paint repair, of course, is a sign of a body repair. While you’re at it, take a peek under the car, too, to see if the body’s undercoating (that textured, rubbery-looking protective paint) looks fresh. If so, it’s probably hiding something.

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Aftermarket Replacement Parts

To be fair, it’s possible to break a light on a car without causing any other body damage to the surrounding area… but it is unlikely. And a replaced head lamp or tail lamp is pretty easy to spot, especially if the car’s owner took the cheapskate route and replaced only one. Put simply, they won’t match. The glass or poly lenses will have hazed at different rates; aftermarket replacements usually don’t look as nice as the originals. If a light’s been replaced, especially if it was just one of a pair, check the surrounding area for other signs of repair.

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Any of these signs are practically dead giveaways that a used car’s been damaged at some point in its life, and if you mention them to the seller, you might get a more honest response. At that point, it’s up to you if you want to go through with the purchase or not.

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