How to Check if a Car Has Been in an Accident

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Accident damage can make a car’s value go down or cause it to underperform. So if you are considering buying a used car, it’s important you want to make sure you get what you pay for. When inspecting a used car, look for the telltale signs of accident damage, including misaligned parts, mismatched colors, and rough panel edges.
What exactly should you look for when inspecting a vehicle for accident damage? Car body line, fender bolts, misaligned body part, mismatched colors, overspray, paint smoothness, rough panel edges, runs in the paint, sanding marks, and windshield damage are all clues.

What to look for when inspecting a car for accident damage

The car inspection represents one of your last lines of defense when trying to find an accident-free used car. When inspecting a car for accident damage, look for specific damage indicators, including:
  • Car body line: The car body line represents one of the first things you should check when inspecting a car. Kneel down and look for any visible bumps or dents along each side of the car.
  • Fender Bolts: If a body shop removes and repairs or replaces a fender, most often the fender bolts show signs of this. When replacing the fender, the bolts usually do not match up with where they originally were, leaving obvious signs they were removed.
  • Misaligned body parts: In a non-damaged car, the body panels should remain flush with each other. Misaligned panels represent a sure sign of a repair. Make sure all body panels align with each other, all doors, and the rest of the frame.
  • Mismatched colors: When examining the car for damage, check to make sure all of the paint on the body matches up. A sure sign of a repair includes mismatched paint colors. And while a body shop might do a good job of matching up the paint of a repaired door, body panel, or other part, most often the color does not quite match.
  • Overspray: Most often, you can find overspray on the black rubber trim found along some panel edges. While harder to detect with a dark-colored car, you can still detect overspray by feeling for a definitive line along the rubber trim.
Some other places you can check include the inside of the wheel wells for overspray or around the radiator.
  • Paint smoothness: A dimpled or less-than-smooth paint job represents another common sign of repair work. Start by kneeling down and looking along the entire length of one side of the car. Work your way down the length looking for a less-than-perfect paint job. Then do this coming back the other way and along the other side of the car.
  • Rough panel edges: Rough or bumpy edges represent another telltale sign of a replaced or repaired body panel. While many car body repair professionals do a good job of applying a smooth coat of paint on the panel, most often they neglect the panel edges.
  • Runs in the paint: Runs, drips, and other defects in the paint job of a car most likely indicates the vehicle has suffered damage in the past. You can spot most of these types of blemishes by doing a simple walk around the car.
  • Sanding marks: Sanding marks on a panel also signify repairs done to the body of a car. These sanding marks stem from the repair person sanding down the body filler used in repairing dents.
  • Windshield damage: Windshield damage also represents a great indicator of a prior accident. Windshields with obvious chips or cracks might indicate that the vehicle has been in a wreck. In addition, ill-fitting side windows, especially when rolled up, sometimes indicate body damage.
Knowing what to look for when inspecting a car for accident damage can keep you from making a bad investment. Accident damage can significantly drive down the value of a vehicle so be on the lookout for these telltale signs when you’re considering your next purchase.

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