HomepageBlogUsed car checkBuying a car with an accident: How to check?
11 March 2020

Buying a car with an accident: How to check?

If you don’t want to spend a lot of time on your used car fixing problems, it’s recommended that you avoid buying a car with an accident report. However, often sellers are not always forthcoming about disclosing this information. This is why it’s important to look for signs of an accident yourself during the car inspection.

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Identifying an accident vehicle

Even if only a minor accident occurs while parking, the car is no longer accident-free. Any damage caused by external impact during an accident that goes beyond minor cosmetic defects is classified as accident damage.

Logically, such a vehicle is worth less because the repair cost that the insurance company would pay or has paid, based on an appraisal, must be deducted from the market value.

How can you spot potential accident damage on a used vehicle? For cars coming from the U.S. and Europe, if the data is available, a CARFAX Vehicle History Report documents whether the car was involved in an accident. In terms of US vehicles, it will also reveal if a “Salvage Title” has been issued. This is how the authorities mark the vehicle as a total loss.

Easy to detect signs of an accident

Basically, even a beginner can determine whether a vehicle is an accident-free used car or not. All you have to do is examine the car, preferably in daylight, to look for dents and scratches which can quickly be identified. These types of damages are only visible if the car has been freshly washed – which is usually the case at most dealerships. After all, the vehicle should make a good impression.

1. Inspect the paint

If you are unsure, running your fingertips along the critical positions can help (for example, if a paint job looks visually dull). Rust can also be detected this way, as can irregularly painted areas. Additionally, you can see whether a car has been repainted by looking at the rubber seals on the doors, around the trunk or on the hood. No paint splashes should be visible there. If a spot has been filled, you can find it by running a magnet over the body of the car - metal has an attractive effect, putty does not.

2. Check the gaps

One indication of an accident is the gap dimensions. These are the distances between neighboring components, such as between the engine compartment lid and the fender. In automotive engineering, a regular gap dimension is considered a sign of quality. In the case of a damaged vehicle, the gap dimensions are usually not uniform. These can be remeasured with a ruler or a gap gauge (available from online retailers). And that’s just the beginning.

3. Take a good look at the tires

For this next check, you will need to get down on your knees so that you can examine the tire treads. If it is badly worn on one side, that is a warning that the tires are no longer rolling smoothly. This may indicate framework. The same applies to the rims – if they are damaged, you should ask critical questions. Either the previous driver is just clumsy and has scratched them while parking, or it is the result of an accident. In this case, a specialist must be called in. He or she can then drive the vehicle onto the lift platform to see whether the tie rods and wheel suspensions are affected.

4. Test drive

The visual inspection is only one part of the accident test. The other part is the test drive. When doing so, you should pay attention to the steering behavior. If you take your hands off the steering wheel on a straight stretch of road, it should continue to drive straight for a while. If the vehicle pulls in one direction or the other, you should ask the seller why that is. How easily the car door closes is also a way to test. It should close without much noise or effort. If it doesn’t, this may be an indication of an accident, because the door has either warped or been replaced after a pileup.

5. A look under the hood is worthwhile

It is worth your time to take a look inside the engine compartment of the vehicle. If weld or crush marks are visible here, it could be a result of a collision. Likewise, as trivial as it may seem, it is suggested to lift the carpet mat in the trunk and check the floor for welds and rust spots.

6. ’Second set of eyes’ principle

During the inspection, it is good to examine the vehicle with some help according to the ’second set of eyes’ principle. Skilled sellers often talk a lot during the inspection and make everything seem harmless, which can be distracting.

7. Get a CARFAX report

If you are still not sure, request a CARFAX vehicle history report, which documents what is known about the vehicle. Updated daily with new information, our database contains over 28 billion historical records from 20 European countries, the US and Canada. For vehicles that have only been registered in Germany, this is unfortunately not possible due to the data protection regulations that apply. In this case, the only option is to have the vehicle inspected by an expert.

If the car is so damaged that it is no longer worthwhile to have it repaired, this is referred to as a total loss. Here one distinguishes between two forms of total loss, explains the Goslar Institute, which researches consumption issues for insurance companies. “The ultimate end for an accident car is the technical total loss. In this case, the car is so badly damaged that it can no longer be technically repaired.” That means the vehicle has a residual value of “zero” and the last trip is to the dump. “In the case of economic total loss, on the other hand, repair is still possible in principle, but is not worthwhile.” This means that “the expected repair costs are higher than the so-called replacement value,” according to the Institute.


💡 The resale value is the amount for which the accident vehicle could be sold unrepaired. If this is zero, there are companies that specialize in “gutting” the car for usable parts.


In principle, however, the following applies: If the seller conceals the information that a vehicle has been in an accident, this is fraud. However, it becomes disastrous if the car has had several previous owners and the current owner may not have known that the car was involved in a crash. This is why you should look twice to see if the vehicle has any traces of an accident.

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