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Buying a used car from a dealer is a lot safer today than it was a few decades ago. For example, used cars often come with repair reports. A report can tell you if a car suffered any previous collision damage. But what if you are buying from a private seller?
Used car collision damage can sometimes be spotted with the naked eye if you know what you’re looking for. This post will detail some of the telltale signs. However, understand that it’s harder to spot collision damage that has been professionally repaired.
Modern bumpers are almost always made of plastic or a lightweight composite. Thus, they crack and fracture very easily. The best way to identify fender damage that may not be readily visible is to run your hand along the entire surface, especially in the corners and where the bumper meets the body of the car. Anything other than a completely smooth surface indicates potential damage.
Do the same thing along the body panels. Go slowly, making sure the tips of your fingers contact as much surface as possible. Often times owners will attempt to fix minor dents and dings themselves. They won’t necessarily get the repaired service completely smooth because they lack the tools and experience.
Any uneven spots could indicate repair damage. If you feel something odd, bend down and look more closely. Take a magnifying glass with you so that you can get the best possible look.
Another way to identify used car collision damage is to take a few steps back and view the entire car at once. What are you looking for? Uneven lines or any distortion in the finish. In terms of lines, even the best body shops cannot always get the lines perfect for the simple reason that replacement parts don’t always line up perfectly. A line that is off by even a fraction could indicate previous damage.
The same is true of finishes. Body shops use factory-direct paint to guarantee a good match. Still, the match is not always perfect. The older a car is, the less likely new paint will match perfectly. Thus, any distortions in a car’s finish could indicate new paint on top of old.
There are always gaps where doors meet the body. These gaps should be uniform around the entire surface of the door. They should also be straight. If you notice gaps that are not uniform in their appearance, you could be looking at a replacement door or damage to the adjoining body panel. Doors, hood, and trunk should also close completely flush. If not, that’s another sign of previous damage.
Used car collision damage is not necessarily confined to body components. Sometimes there is hidden collision damage underneath. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know this sort of getting under the car and looking. Be sure to take a flashlight with you when you go to inspect a used car.
What are you looking for? Keep an eye out for cracks in the frame, a bent chassis, and certain parts that look like they may have recently been replaced. Focus on things like brake lines, transmission, and shocks and struts. Replaced parts are not necessarily indicative of collision damage, but they can be.
It’s important to check for used car collision damage before you buy. In the absence of a report you can look at, you’ll have to do the inspection yourself.