Inspecting a Secondhand Car for Signs of Accidents


May 22nd, 2020

Inspecting a Secondhand Car for Signs of Accidents

Several car accidents occur in Australia (or any other country for that matter) each day. Most of these are usually minor, but a few others are fatal. It is almost an inevitability for car owners. Majority of the cars involved in these accidents often come out with dents and scratches that can be fixed easily. Often, these cars are repaired under-the-table without being reported. 

For this reason, it’s important to know how to spot a car involved in an accident if you are looking to buy a used car. Besides determining its value, the ability to assess past damage on a vehicle is critical in determining if it can affect its performance after you’ve bought it. 

While there is no foolproof way to determine whether the secondhand car you're interested in has been in an accident or not, there are telltale signs that’ll give it away. In this article, we take a look at the common ones.

1. Check the car’s report

The first way to find out if a car has been in an accident is by assessing its car history. You can use AutoCheck, Recheck, or Carfax to find out the history report of a car. All you need is the Rego or VIN. Note that the mentioned companies all charge a fee to get you the report. 

The report shows the complete history of that car, including the car’s official registration details, outstanding amounts owed on it, odometer tampering, lien information, and accident history.

2. Assess any visible damages

Visible damages such as large dents and deep scratches are a clear indication that the vehicle has been in an accident. However, keep in mind that some scratches are normal and not a result of accidents, but rather caused by unrelated events such as kids hitting the car while playing.

While at it, check for any spots that have been filled in or painted over. The simplest way to go about this is by using a magnet. Hold it against those areas you think have been filled in to see if it sticks or not. If the magnet doesn't stick, the chances are that the region was filled in.

3. Check for replaced parts

It is only logical to replace the damaged parts after an accident. As such, replaced parts are a sign that the vehicle was probably involved in an accident at some point. Brand new components, for instance, stand out when fitted to a car that has been on the road for a while.

Replacements can also be made using mismatched or third-party parts. Ergo, it would be best if you verified with the car seller on such issues. Another way of finding out about replacements is by checking the car’s body lines. Crouch down to an eye-level with the body of the vehicle and look along the mainline on the side. If the line is uneven or distorted, the body panels were either hammered out or replaced.

Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that car had an accident, but it lets you be aware the vehicle has been worked on prior. 

4. Observe paint issues

An alternative way of finding out if a used car has been involved in an accident is by scrutinising its paintwork. Look for any inconsistency. It could be a difference in shade, a variance of the shine, or any mismatch that indicates the car’s body has been repaired.

Park the car in a well-lit environment and then stand at a distance to see if the car's paint colour matches all around the body. Also, look closely around the windows, body panel gaps, insides of the door for any signs of overspray.

You can also feel the paint using your hand. The original paint from the factory is usually smooth since it’s done by machines. Replicating this using the human hand is almost impossible. Textural difference, therefore, shows that the car was likely repainted.

5. Look under the hood

Pop open the hood and confirm that all the screws holding the fenders in place are in good condition and of the same type. If they don’t match, chances are the fenders were removed or replaced, either of which may point to a history of an accident. Carry out the same check for other parts, e.g. bolts that hold the hood to the hinges.

6. Check panel gaps 

Cars leave the assembly lines in almost perfect condition. Almost perfect because, let’s face it, nothing human-made is really flawless. Even so, elements such as panel gaps are usually in an excellent state, so you can have an easy time closing and opening the door.

This panel gap is usually small, even and consistent, but can be misaligned in the event of an accident. The process of getting the panels accurately in place after an accident is difficult. If the car’s body panels don’t fit together well, there’s a probability that it was involved in an accident.

7. Inspect the windshield & other windows

Check that the windshield and other windows aren’t cracked or chipped. Signs of webbing could indicate that there was an accident that involved the car. Also, check that the windows fit right into the frame when rolled up.

8. Check for crabbing

Accidents often leave cars with frame damage, which can be noticed when a vehicle is moving. Get on the ground and ask the car's owner to drive the vehicle forth and back. Watch how the wheels are aligned when moving. If the front wheels don’t line up with the rear wheels (crabbing), chances are the car was wrecked in an accident.

9. Inspect the fenders and bumpers

Cracks and patches on fenders or bumpers are a visible sign that a car has been in an accident. Fenders and bumpers are usually made of lightweight or composite materials, making them very susceptible to breaking in collisions. Run your hand along them to check for damages such as dents and even cracks.

In addition to inspecting a secondhand car for signs of an accident yourself, we recommend asking a qualified mechanic to give it a second look. He or she may spot some damaged elements you might have missed.

Learn more about cars and maintaining them from CarPart’s blogs! If you’re planning to buy used cars or car parts, check out our classifieds and Request-a-Part feature to help you connect to sellers who have the part or car that you need! It’s free to use, too, so waste no more time, locate a car part the quick and easy way!

By Sam O.