By: Sarah E. Sanuth, an insider in the automotive industry  with many years of experience in the car dealership and repair business

While CarFax can offer some insight on whether a used vehicle has been in an accident, it is never absolute. Used cars will usually show signs of an accident or body work. However, if you can’t find any evidence that an accident occurred or body damage was repaired, it usually means one of two things.

1. The used car was never in an accident.
2. The repairs were done flawlessly, which should have no effect on the overall value of the vehicle.

The following are tips to help you determine whether a used car has been in an accident.

  • Alignment of body panels. Check the gaps of each of the body panels to make sure that there isn’t an excessive gap. They should each be symmetrical in the sense that the gap isn’t bigger at the top of the panel as opposed to the bottom. Each side of the vehicle should be the same as the other.
  • Open and close all doors. Every door should open with ease and should not rub or hit up against any panel or part of the body in the process. You should not have to do anything special, such as lifting or pushing down, on any doors so that they open or close.
  • Check the paint. When a vehicle has to be repainted, the paint is mixed on an as needed basis. Regardless of the quality of the paint, or the mixing procedure; no two colors will be exactly the same. Make sure every panel has an even, uniform color. You should also be looking for any paint drips or runs.
  • Check the door jambs, under the hood and any rubber gaskets for overspray. Even the most skilled body technicians will leave some overspray.
  • Look in the trunk. When body work is performed, a lot of sanding takes place. When looking in the trunk, check under everything and in any crack for dust. It is almost impossible for anyone to remove all the dust associate with body work.
  • Look for tape lines. Masking tape is also used for painting cars. Check to see whether or not you see any straight tape lines, indicating that an area was taped off to prevent overspray. Areas to check would be windows, handles and wheel wells.
  • Check the curves. Cars have curves, and it is extremely difficult to seamlessly follow all of them. Make sure that there is no indication that a curve, or rounded area, has been tampered with to make it less fluid.

There are always exceptions to the rules. If a vehicle appears that it has had work done to the bumper, it is not always a cause for concern. By the time a vehicle reaches the age of 4, it will have had some repair to the bumper cover. This does not mean that it has been in an accident as they receive the brunt of what flies up from the road and constantly have dings, dents and scrapes.

The next time you shop for a used car and want to know whether or not it has been in an accident, follow these simple tips and you will help ensure that you have purchased an accident-free vehicle.

For more tips and advice on what else to look for in inspecting a used car before you buy, see Tips for Test Driving a Used Car and Used Car Inspection Checklist.

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