HOW TO TELL A LEMON FROM A PEACH, LOOKING FOR PRIOR DAMAGE ON USED CARS

It never seems to fail that you buy a used car and only then do you start to notice little things that could mean that it had been in an accident.  Running a CARFAX is great but even that may not tell you all of the car’s history.  Many repairs never get reported so what can you look for before you end up with a lemon in your garage?  Here are a few things we look for if someone asks us to do a pre-purchase inspection…

1)Do all of the panel gaps look consistent?  Many times if the car has had sub standard repairs the gaps will be inconsistent between doors, fenders, hoods, etc. from one side to the other or may even be wider at the top or bottom indicating possible prior damage.

2)Is the color and texture of the paint finish consistent around the whole vehicle?  While some manufacturers struggle with color match of their bumpers, most vehicles will have a consistent color match and texture throughout the whole paint job.  Step back away from the vehicle 20 feet or so and look at it from all angles.  sometimes the color differences may not be apparent from close up.  Things like small dirt nibs showing up as little bumps in the finish or some panels looking smoother than others can be a sign of repainting.

3)VIN stickers are missing or replaced with DOT stickers.  Most newer vehicles have small VIN decals on the major body panels such as hoods, fenders, doors, etc..  These tags are usually in door or fender jams or under the hood but very visible.  The original tags will have the vehicle’s VIN number on them so if you see one that doesn’t match the car or it simply says DOT or DOT replacement on the tag the panel has likely been replaced at some point.

4)Is there over-spray in the jams or on mouldings?  All Mouldings, door handles, lights, and anything else that comes in contact with the surface being painted should be removed to prevent future peeling problems however some lower end shops don’t take the time to remove them making it difficult to mask around hence leaving over-spray on things like the side mouldings, handles and weatherstrips.  If the jams are not masked properly it can also leave rough or dry over-spray on the back edges of doors, fenders and even the pillar between the doors on 4 door cars.

5)Does the car drive straight?  While a simple alignment issue can cause a vehicle to pull it can also be a sign of prior frame or uni-body damage.  If the steering wheel is not straight when you are driving straight or if the car has a pull while driving I would recommend having an alignment shop take a closer look to eliminate the possibility of costly suspension or frame repairs.

If you are looking at a vehicle with any combination of these red flags I would highly recommend taking it to a qualified body shop for a professional inspection before laying out your hard earned money and ending up with somebody else’s headache.

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