9 ways to determine if a used car has been in an accident

9 ways to determine if a used car has been in an accident

You may find several options when shopping for a used car. But be cautious because dealers sometimes modify the vehicle and fix or replace parts damaged in an accident without telling you. If you don’t know where and what to look for, it can be hard to spot these discrepancies. With this in mind, we’ve listed nine ways to tell if a pre-owned car has been involved in a crash or a serious accident.

Look for a new paint job
Aftermarket paintwork is among the most common signs of potential damage to a used car. Before buying the vehicle, walk around and see if any panel appears in a different shade than the others. The change may not be visible at first glance, so you might have to look closer. Since bumpers are made of plastic, the fresh paint coat might be more challenging to identify. Remember that the aftermarket paint process differs from the factory’s process, and new paint on a panel may be slightly faded.

Run your finger over the panels
After you’re through with the visual inspection, move on to the finger test. Run your finger along the edges of the car’s panels, including the edges of the doors, windows, and the back edge of the hood. If the edges haven’t been repainted, they should be smooth. If there’s aftermarket work done on the car, the lip of the panels should be left slightly rough or bumpy. If you notice these rough edges, examine them further and speak to the dealer or owner if necessary.

Identify overspray
When a car goes to a body shop for damage repair, the mechanic covers the areas that don’t need painting with tape and paper. It helps them ensure no paint gets onto surfaces it shouldn’t. However, if the individual isn’t extremely particular about the work, they might leave small edges of the black rubber strip exposed around the base of a window, molding, or other panels. As a result, there might be traces of overspray of the panel color in these areas. You should also examine the inside of the wheel wells, as this is one area that usually has overspray. Another place to look is under the hood, where overspray is visible on the radiator or rad supports.

Check for sanding marks
A previously dented or repaired car panel could be filled with car essentials like Bondo. This is a polyester-based resin mixed with a hardener and applied in a dent, followed by sanding. The service professional at the body shop executes this process so that the dent is hidden and the original shape of the panel is maintained. While some people are experts at sanding, you can identify if there’s aftermarket work done in this regard. For example, if you shine a light on the panels, the sanding marks will be more visible under the paint.

Look for paint textures resembling an orange peel
When a vehicle comes brand new from the factory, the paint machinery ensures the coat is evenly applied to create a smooth finish. And this process usually cannot be accurately replicated, even by aftermarket paint experts. If a professional at an automobile body shop paints the car, the vehicle may end up with a less-than-a-smooth finish. The edges may look rough, like the peel of an orange. Check areas like the front and rear corners of the car for unusual-looking paintwork. Sometimes, even factory paint may appear to have an orange-peel-like texture, so you should also inspect new vehicles and ask questions.

Try the fish-eye and drip test
Sometimes, an aftermarket paint job may result in dry paint drips. It’s an indicator of a sloppy paint job conducted following an accident or for other reasons. The fish-eye look could occur if oil gets onto the paint and leaves a minute circular blemish. A drip may occur for the same reason and may resemble paint dripping down from the panel. All you have to do is walk around the car and look for these defects. Doing so could help assess if the vehicle has been in an accident or repainted for reasons not brought to your notice.

Inspect bolt heads
If a used car owner or retailer has replaced the front fenders or removed them for paintwork, you might want to look under the hood for tell-tale signs of damage. Bolts that attach the fender to the frame come painted at the factory. However, you might notice particular signs if they are loosened or removed. For instance, the paint on the bolt head might be peeled off, or the bolt may not be seated in the same spot after the fender was re-attached. This makes it easy to spot unpainted regions where the bolt was initially set.

Use a paint thickness gauge
Consider using a paint thickness gauge if you conduct all these tests and still cannot identify discrepancies in the paint job. The device costs about $300 and should be available at a local automobile spare part store. It helps determine the depth of the coat on the car’s panels. With the help of the gauge, you can identify if the paint on all the panels is of a consistent depth. Any areas that are thicker than others might be indicators of aftermarket paintwork. A typical reading would be between four and seven microns. If there’s an overlay of paint, the readings may climb as high as 25 microns.

Take a test drive
Another common method to check for damages is by test driving the vehicle. If the car veers from one side to another and it’s difficult to keep in a straight line, there might be an alignment problem. And this is a potential indicator of damage caused by an accident.