How to Inspect a Used Car For Damage

Car accidents happen hundreds of times every day, and sometimes cars are repaired under-the-table without having been reported. Some cars get squashed while others are sold for scrap, but there are also those that can get repaired and put back on the used car market. For this, it’s important know some methods to check a used vehicle to see if it has been in an accident.

The ability to assess past damage can help you determine the real value of a car to further determine whether or not those damages can have an effect on the car in the future, and also, most importantly, it can help you determine whether the car is safe or not. Here are a few simple ways you can inspect a car for past accidents and damages using nothing more than some investigative prowess and couple of your senses.

Method 1 of 1: Use a car report and thoroughly check the vehicle for anything that doesn’t seem right in the paint and the body

Step 1: You should always check the Carfax report first. When you go car shopping at a dealership, they should have an up-to-date report on hand for you to look over. If you’re buying a car privately, the seller may not have a report. Either request one, or get one yourself. This report will show you a complete documented history of the vehicle in question including claims, accident reports, maintenance, lien information, fleet, flood damage, odometer tampering, and more. This report can give you a great idea of what to look for if you go to see the vehicle.

person inspecting vehicle

Step 2: Inspect the paint all around the car. Start by looking for more obvious damages like cracks, dents, and scratches, and then work your way down.

Stand at a distance and check different parts of the car to see if the paint color matches all the way around. If it doesn’t match the car most definitely had some work done.

Get closer to the vehicle and crouch down at an angle to see if the reflection is smooth. If the reflection is uneven or blurry, it was probably repainted. In this situation, also lookout for is peeling clear coat. If there was a sloppy paint job, you might see drip.

Step 3: Take your hand and feel the paint. Is it smooth or rough? Paint from the factory is almost always smooth because it’s done by a machine, and it’s impossible for a person to replicate it.

If you see some textural differences in the paint (usually from sandpaper), you will probably be able to feel them, too. If there are rough spots from paint or body filler (or both), this requires further inspection and questioning.

paint overspray in inner door

Step 4: Check for overspray. If you see and feel rough paint, open the doors and check for overspray. There is never overspray on a new vehicle because the parts are painted before they’re assembled. If you see paint on the plastic trim or wiring, it is possible evidence of body repair.

arrows pointing at bolts under the hood

Step 5: Check under hood. Check under the hood and look at the bolts that connect the hood to the hinges, and the fenders to the body. The bolts should be completely covered in paint, and there should be no marks. If paint is missing, it’s likely that the car was repaired.

close up of bumper not meeting quite flush

Step 6: Check the body panels and see how they fit together. Are they flush with the doors and frame? Are either of the bumpers loose? If anything seems offset, there is a good chance repairs were done. The best thing to do in this scenario is to check the opposite side for differences. If both sides do not match, this is an obvious sign of repairs.

Step 7: Check the windshield, and all the other windows, as well. Are they chipped, cracked, or is there any webbing? How well do the side windows fit into the frame when they’re rolled up? Anything other than a perfect fit could be a sign that there was an accident.

person inspecting side panels of the vehicle

Step 8: Another good inspection is to check the lines of the car. The body lines must be perfectly straight, and the best way to check them is to squat down to inspect them at eye-level. Look for dents or bumps that indicate body work was done, or that dents were hammered out.

car rust under fender

Step 9: Check the car for rust. A little bit of rust on the body is sometimes not a big deal, but once the corrosion process begins, it’s very difficult to stop. Check for areas under the car and around the edges where rust might exist. If you see signs of repair from rust damage it will be obvious and very rough. In some cases, you might even see very thin metal or holes.

  • Warning: Bad rust damage compromises the integrity of the structure, and cars of this nature should always be avoided for safety purposes.

discoloration around car speaker

Step 10: Check to see if the car was flooded. Any flooded vehicle should show up on a vehicle history report, but in the case that an insurance claim wasn’t reported, make sure you know what to look out for.

Even if the car looks good and runs well, open the door and look at the mesh of the speakers, usually toward the bottom of the door. Any discolor might be from dirty water stains. Another way to confirm this is to remove a piece of the center console trim and check behind it. If there is a mark with a clear line, this indicates murky water and obvious flood damage. A car in this state should always be avoided.

In addition to inspecting the car yourself, it's important to have a mechanic look it over for proper function and operational elements that are not visible to the naked eye. Get a pre-purchase inspection, which comes with a full inspection and a list of expected repairs with how much they cost, so you can know the true price and condition of the car you're interested in purchasing.


Next Step

Schedule Pre-purchase Car Inspection

The most popular service booked by readers of this article is Pre-purchase Car Inspection. YourMechanic’s technicians bring the dealership to you by performing this job at your home or office 7-days a week between 7AM-9PM. We currently cover over 2,000 cities and have 100k+ 5-star reviews... LEARN MORE

SEE PRICING & SCHEDULING

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Recent Pre-purchase Car Inspection reviews

Excellent Rating

(5,189)

Rating Summary
4,847
184
37
38
83
4,847
184
37
38
83

Attila

19 years of experience
906 reviews
Attila
19 years of experience
Cadillac SRX V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Edison, New Jersey
Attila was great! Very knowledgeable and actually detected a fault during a pre-purchase inspection that would have cost me later.
Lexus ES350 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Fords, New Jersey
He is very good—offered all the significant details we needed from the inspection. Helped us figure out what needed to be fixed.

Shawn

12 years of experience
285 reviews
Shawn
12 years of experience
Chevrolet Impala V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Shawn was prompt, professional, and delivered the promised service as expected. This was a used vehicle pre-purchase inspection. Shawn also had to drive to multiple locations to perform the inspection, as the address listed that I provided him with was not accurate, but he still made it to the correct location within his time window and completed the inspection.
Toyota Sequoia - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Akron, Pennsylvania
Shawn was very prompt in communicating with me and was good at helping me decide whether to purchase a used car. He help me avoid a car with a repaired rusted frame that could be a danger to my family's safety since we were planning on using the car to tow a travel trailer!

Luis

18 years of experience
320 reviews
Luis
18 years of experience
Honda HR-V L4-1.8L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Warren, New Jersey
Luis was great. He showed up on time, acted professionally, and gave me confidence with a pre-purchase car inspection.
Acura RDX - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - South Hackensack, New Jersey
Luis did a thorough pre-purchase inspection for me, and found several major issues that made me pass on buying the car. Had I purchased the car, I almost certainly would have ended up paying thousands in repairs down the road. Thanks Luis!

Robert

20 years of experience
1089 reviews
Robert
20 years of experience
Hyundai Elantra L4-2.0L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Englewood, Colorado
He did a pre-purchase inspection for me. He was knowledgeable and fast, and knew what he was looking for. I really appreciate all the pictures and documentation he took of the state of the car before purchase. He noted potential issues with the car that I wouldn't have been able to notice. Would recommend.
GMC Savana 1500 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Golden, Colorado
I trust Robert. He gave me a list and we will take care of it the week of June 29. I will know then that my vehicle is ready for the winter and is safe to drive. I look forward to getting things ready for another winter of careful driving.

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.

GET A QUOTE

Related articles

How to Test Car Paint
Car Car paint can deteriorate or disintegrate for a number of reasons, whether from abrasive contact, exposure to the elements, or even washing, but while a good quality (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/how-to-buy-a-good-quality-paint-job-for-your-car) paint will withstand these better and for longer, poor quality paint...
How to Report a Bad Driver
Bad drivers cause car accidents by driving too fast, tailgating, or ignoring road rules. Report reckless drivers to the authorities when you see them.
All About Bodily Injury Liability Insurance
Bodily injury liability insurance helps if you get in a car crash that causes injury or death. Most states require you to buy bodily injury insurance.

Related questions

Advice on cleaning mildew from a '89 Buick that was covered for months
It doesn't matter how premium the cover is. It still holds moisture in, and that mold is growing on there. That is just the way that it goes. You can easily wipe it off with any kind of wax and...
When turing the car abs on & car stuck trac light blink why
If your traction control and ABS lights are on at the same time, the usual cause of this is a wheel speed sensor (https://www.yourmechanic.com/services/wheel-speed-sensor-replacement) or a tone ring. The tone ring is what the wheel speed sensor picks up on....
Can I stop rusting without sanding down and painting my car?
Rust on vehicle sheet metal, and the frame, is extremely difficult to stop once it gets a toehold. To "stop" rust already present on steel, every last minute trace of rust must be removed and then the metal has to...

How can we help?

Our service team is available 7 days a week, Monday - Friday from 6 AM to 5 PM PST, Saturday - Sunday 7 AM - 4 PM PST.

1 (855) 347-2779 · hi@yourmechanic.com