Something not adding up? 5 tips to check if a car has been in an accident

October 6, 2017
Posted by: admin

There are hundreds of car accidents in Australia every year – from minor “fender benders” to more serious collisions resulting in a write-off. This means that there are a lot of second-hand cars that have been in an accident – as many as 235,000 in a 12 month period, according to Equifax, the company responsible for producing Car History Reports.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with purchasing a vehicle that’s been in accident, it’s important to check for past damage. A car that’s been in an accident can have serious mechanical or structural issues that could end up costing you a pretty penny.

So how can you check if a car has been in an accident? Check out these 5 tips below, straight from a car dealer.

Tip 1: Check its official history

The first step to check if a car has been in an accident is to invest in a Car History Report. This report contains information about the vehicle as well as things like previous sales, whether it has financial interests, or whether there is suspected odometer rollback. Importantly, the Car History Report also tells us whether the car has been listed as a write-off, whether it’s a repairable write-off, and whether it’s been inspected previously.

Whilst the Car History Report is the first port of call to check if a car has been in an accident, what about accidents that haven’t been officially recorded?

It’s not uncommon for an accident that occurs on a lonely stretch of highway to be covered up with a quick phone call to a panel beater mate. Similarly, relatively minor bumps can be cosmetically rectified at home with a quick YouTube search, some bog, and some clever spray painting.

Tip 2: Do a walk-around

Some cover up jobs can be spotted by simply walking around a vehicle. Keep your eye out for paint blemishes, bubbles, and dents. Always inspect a vehicle in good lighting conditions and pay special attention to paint that doesn’t quite match the rest of the vehicle. Paint that is lighter or darker than its surrounds can indicate the work of a panel beater.

Check out the headlights as well. Mismatched headlights can indicate a frontend collision that has necessitated replacing the headlight. You’re looking for one headlight that looks brand new whilst the other headlight is yellow, faded, or foggy.

Tip 3: Let’s get physical

Don’t worry – you won’t have to resurrect your 80s-style leotard, but you will have to get up close and personal to the car. Run your hands over the vehicle – you’re feeling for different textures (e.g. a rough or bubbled section), which can indicate the presence of differing layers of paint or bog filler underneath. These can be signs of panel repair. Bubbles can also indicate the presence of rust – not always an indication of an accident, but good to know about.


Tip 4: Get down & dirty

Crouch down at the front and back corners of the car and look carefully down the side – a good clean car should be straight and everything should line up. A car that’s been in accident might have dents or doors and panels that don’t align properly.

Tip 5: Take a look inside

After giving the exterior a good examination, it’s time to look inside to check if a car has been in an accident. Open the doors and check for scratch marks or paint blemishes along the sill – this might indicate that a panel beater has been at work. Even a skilled panel beater might not pay attention to the interior parts of the car that are not generally on display.


Pro tip: Check the tyre well in the boot – make sure you lift up the floor covering and take out the spare tyre. Look for paint in the boot and tyre well that’s a different colour to the rest of the car? A quick panel job usually won’t cover this part of the car. A car that’s had a backend collision will probably show signs of repair in the boot and perhaps rust in the tyre well.

Where does that leave you?

No official record and no visible signs of an accident? Happy days – the vehicle has passed the first test!

What if the official record shows that the car has been in accident? Show the record to the seller. Ask them to explain. If the car has been listed as a repairable write-off and an inspection has been recorded, ask to see the report and certification.

What if you suspect that the car has been in an accident but there is no official record? Discuss your concerns with the seller. Point out the issues that you’ve noticed. An honest seller will be happy to discuss and/or explain. It’s not unusual for a seller to have no idea that their car has been in an accident – which is why it’s important that you do your due diligence.

At the end of the day there is nothing wrong with purchasing a car that’s been in an accident – as long as you’re fully informed of the extent of the accident, the subsequent repairs, and you have the certification and paperwork you need to maintain the registration status. Sometimes you can grab yourself a bargain, but you should also be aware that evidence of a previous accident can affect the re-sale value of a vehicle.

Do you have other ways to check if a car has been in an accident? Or any burning questions for a car dealer? Let us know in the comments section!

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