7 Steps For Checking Damage On A Used Car

January 27, 2012

When shopping around, it’s important to check for any damage on a used car from collisions. While a past collision isn’t necessarily a make-or-break scenario, a used car that’s been previously damaged in a collision is much more likely to present problems in the future. Crashes are likely to damage suspension components, cooling and exhaust systems, as well as body components and airbag systems. On top of that, cars with a history of collision are prone to rust faster than a car that has never been crashed. Most importantly, a car that’s been repaired after a collision may not protect passengers as well if it’s involved in a wreck again. When you’re on the lot, here are some tell-tale signs that the car you’re looking at may have been repaired from a past collision.

  • Bring a Mini Tool Kit - It will help if you bring along a used car kit with a few simple tools. Most importantly a flashlight and a simple magnet. You actually don’t want the magnet to be really strong; this will help it to detect damage.
  • Loose Airbag Covers – Once you’re inside the car, check the airbag covers. If they appear to be loose or they move at all, they may have already been deployed once or re-packed poorly. Even worse, sometimes airbag systems aren’t repaired at all during a crash. This leaves the passengers unprotected in a severe collision.
  • Check the Trunk – Rear-end damage can be one of the most difficult repairs when a car is in a collision, so it’s often the easiest to spot. Before you pop the trunk, take a look at the spaces around the trunk. Are they straight and uniform? When a car is damaged in a rear-end collision, it’s difficult to re-align the trunk exactly, and there are often uneven spaces in the body panels. A poor repair job may result in a leaky trunk, so check for moisture once you open the trunk or hatch. Now that it’s open, lift up the carpet where the spare tire is stored. Look at the metal around this area and the wheel wells. Look for creases and ripples. The Panels here should be smooth with dimples and lines stamped in to reinforce them. Any sign of sharp folds or chipped or bubbled paint may be a sign of past damage.
  • Open the doors – With the doors open, look around the edges and corners of the doorframe. The metal here should be smooth and uniform. Any sign of creases or rust may be evidence of a past collision.
  • Check the Rear Quarter Panel – This is one of the toughest areas to repair on a modern unibody car. Use the magnet and stick it on the body in a few places just behind the rear door and around the rear wheel. If it doesn’t stick, that can be a sign that the body has been filled with “bondo” or another collision repair technique. Note that some cars (some notoriously built by Saturn) may have composite body panels that won’t pass this test. Do your homework.  
  • Pop the Hood – Look around the engine compartment, specifically around the front core suppor--the metal piece that holds up the radiator; and the shock towers--the bumps that are found on either side of the engine. The metal here should be in smooth condition, again with pressed in lines and dimples for strength. Look for creases and bubbled or cracked paint.
  • Look at the Lines – Finally, take a look at the whole car. Check the seams around the doors, the hood, the body panels and the trunk one more time. All the body panels should fit straight and have uniform spacing on the seams.

Follow a few simple guidelines and you should be able to make sure your used car hasn’t been damaged previously.

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