Don’t be afraid of a car with an accident record

Courtesy of Richard Perry
Richard Perry, The Hemet Car Guy.

Greetings from the Hemet Car Guy,

Many people get caught up on buying a car that has never been in an accident. But if a car is a really good deal, that alone isn’t reason to panic. After all, thousands of cars are in accidents – especially minor ones – every year. Does that mean they should never be considered again?

I personally think not…and here’s why. Most mechanics or body shops can quickly identify a car that’s had paint or body work. Simply by looking underneath painted panels, evidence of a prior accident can often be found.

It’s easy to tell if a vehicle you’re considering was in an accident. For many shoppers, a process that once required a visit to a skilled body shop can now be handled with the click of a mouse using CarFax or Autocheck. What if that click reveals some bad news, such as past damage? Should you buy a car that’s been in an accident? Here are some tips that can help you make that decision:

How bad was the accident?
Sometimes CarFax will report the severity of a collision. For example, I recently looked at a truck for which CarFax said, “Minor damage; vehicle was driven from the scene.” That doesn’t bother me so much, since it means the truck was probably only dented or scraped.

Thousands of cars are in accidents – especially minor ones – every year. Does that mean they should never be considered again?”


A CarFax reporting “major damage” or notes that a car was towed from the collision site is certainly a red flag. However, CarFax isn’t always accurate. Sometimes, a four-car accident in which three cars sustain major damage can show up as “major damage” on the undamaged car’s CarFax report. Such errors are just a reality of the system. And that’s why we inspect our cars before buying them. And you should too. If the CarFax report raises any red flags or questions, we strongly recommend taking the car to a trusted mechanic or body shop.

Who fixed it?
One major factor is figuring out the quality of the repair. Who fixed it? Was it a “factory” body shop with ties to the automaker? Or was it a cheap repair job done as quickly as possible? Your mechanic will tell you his opinion. But if paint colors don’t match or panels don’t properly fit, that’s a sign it wasn’t a thorough fix – and there could be more issues underneath.

Photo Source:
Most mechanics or body shops can quickly identify a car that’s had paint or body work.

“Known damage isn’t a deal killer either,” said one auto mechanic. “My girlfriend’s car has four accidents on record: three rear bumper skins from minor impact in stop-and-go traffic and one outer fender repair from being hit while parked. All repairs were done at shops certified through all major luxury brands and had no structural impact. The paint work was better than factory. My car has three hits, a front-end hit when someone spun out in front of me on ice with extensive cosmetic damage, but nothing structural. A sideswipe from a distracted teenager required two doors and a fender, still all cosmetic. And finally, a neighbor opened their door next to my car in a windstorm, resulting in the mother of all door dings and another new door. Every repair was performed at factory-certified, reputable shops. I’d buy these used cars in a heartbeat. Look for cars that were owned for years after the damage and it’s a better bet they were done right. If they were sold the next month, stay away!”

Check title status
Maybe the biggest thing to consider when you’re thinking about buying a car that has been in an accident is its title status. A salvage title is issued to a vehicle in which the cost of repairs exceeds its present value. A salvaged branded title is a mark that will stay with the car forever. The title can never be altered, so the next buyer will know the car has been in a serious accident. And most insurers won’t provide coverage for cars with rebuilt salvaged titles, since it’s difficult to know their value and condition. As a result, I suggest staying away from rebuilt or salvage titles.

Compare to resale value
One last consideration with accident cars is resale value. If you buy a car knowing it was in an accident, it’s likely the next buyer will easily find out the same thing. So while you’re paying less up-front for your vehicle, remember you probably won’t get as much when you go to sell it – and keep in mind the lower price is the reason you bought it.

Hope this helps,
The Hemet Car Guy

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