How Do you Check if a Car has Been in an Accident-small

How Do you Check if a Car has Been in an Accident

How Do you Check if a Car has Been in an Accident

Cars can cost a lot of money, in order to protect the investment you need to make sure you know what you are buying. Accident damage can often be concealed by sellers and made to appear as if nothing ever happened.

We give you the lowdown below.

So how do you check if a car has been in an accident?

A visual inspection around the body of the car, including around the engine bay and under the boot floor along with looking out for misaligned panels, poor paintwork and fault codes are some indicators of accident damage to a car.

Why Would Someone Sell an Accident Damage Car?

Various reasons, the most common being

  • Purchased as a salvage car repaired and sold on for profit, often declared as damaged repaired from the onset


  • Been involved in an accident and not reported to an insurance company, often repaired back to a poor standard and sold intending to hide any sign of prior accident damage. Sellers tend to price these slightly cheaper than market value to give the appeal as a bargain buy’


  • Been involved in an accident and reported to an insurance company, often repaired to a good standard, however, the car’s title is ‘marked’ as accident damage dependant on the level of damage sustained. Similar to the above, often times sellers will fail to disclose the car is recorded as accident damaged preying on sellers to ‘fall for the trap;


  • Minor accident damage, not reported and not repaired, visible to see in the forms of dents, scrapes and scuffs, often price reflects the damage sustained.

Is There Anything Wrong With Buying an Accident Damage Car?

As long as you fully know what you are getting involved in, then NO. However, you need to understand there is a vast difference in the value of a prior damage and undamaged car. The issue is not in actually buying a previously damaged car but actually getting deceived into purchasing one in the first place.

How can I check if it has been involved in an accident?

We suggest you always start off with a ‘Precheck’ of the car which includes conducting a HPI check.

A HPI check will inform you of any vehicle which has been involved in an accident and was declared to the insurance as being so at the time. Damage repaired cars are broken down into categories depending on how much damage they sustained at the time of an accident

You can read more about the categories HERE.

Be sure to read our in-depth guide on why you need to conduct a HPI check before you purchase a car.

Assuming the HPI check is clear you still need to check if the car may have been involved in some kind of prior collision, this will be in the form of an inspection at the scene.

Here are a few things you can check to help you determine this fact:  

Car Paint Meter

The idea behind this is simple, if there has been a collision cover-up, then a car is usually repainted.

More often than not only the affected region eg: front bumper will be repainted rather than the entire car. When a car is originally sprayed at the factory an even coat of paint is applied all around the car.

However when a car panel is resprayed at a local body shop the thickness of the paint on the affected panel will be majorly different from the rest of the car.

We suggest using a paint meter to check all major panels of the car to see if all the paint on each panel matches up. If you find an anomaly be sure to check the area thoroughly to see if you can see signs of any accident damage.

Poor Paint Work

On occasion people will pick up a spray can and ‘have a go’ themselves to spray over damage, the quality of the paint should be obviously poor and by feeling it, it will be rough to the touch to the touch.

Check for poor colour matches and overspray on plastic trims etc. If you see a sign of this you need to be asking the seller some questions as to why it exists.

Evidence of Primer

Check the edges of all major panels, boot and the bonnet for visible signs of primer, it should appear white, rough and powdery looking. Also look in any difficult regions such as door sills and along plastic trims where it’s often hard to clean primer away. If you see primer its safe to say there has been some paintwork or attempted paintwork on the car. Take time to investigate the area thoroughly.

How Do you Check if a Car has Been in an Accident

Misaligned Panels

Take time to establish the width between all panels is even and straight, a common sign of prior accident damage are panels which have too much or too less space between them.

Run your finger down each gap from top to bottom and feel for anything which seems odd or obscure.

Open all doors the boot and the bonnet and check if it all closes smoothly and sits back in its original position.

Crumple Zones

Check around the engine bay and look at the metal work surrounding the engine, the area should be straight with no ripples and crumples. If a front-end collision has occurred it will be difficult for a body shop to get rid of these signs.

Do the same in the boot by lifting up the boot floor carpet and checking for crumple zones in the metal work at the back. Any signs of bumps or ripples in the metal would indicate a rear end collision.

Odd Colour Panels

Should be easier to see but still often overlooked. Often sellers will replace a damaged door with another door from a scrap yard. Even though they may have found the exact same colour, make and model of the car to get it from not all cars wear the same.

This means two red BMW’s who had the same original colour from the factory could look like two completely different shades of red depending on exposure to the sun, rain snow etc. This usually (not always) means that you may see a panel on a car which looks darker or lighter than the rest of the car, it would perhaps indicate a replaced panel.

Fault Codes on the Dashboard

After an accident, a car may indicate several fault codes on the dashboard such as an airbag light or an engine management light. This is because after a collision certain sensors are tripped altering the driver of something not quite right in the car.

Sellers may often downplay these fault codes with a cover story of why they are illuminated. We suggest investing in a fault code reader and connecting it the cars diagnostic system.

The reader will give you a code which you can google and establish the error and the reason for it. Doing this upfront can save you thousands of repairs in costly repairs in the electrical system.

Not Feeling Right When Being Driven

We can’t think of a fancy title for this so it’s just as the title suggests. If the car pulls to one side or makes funny noises it could be due to accident damage. if in doubt walk away from the deal.

We always suggest a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) on a car if you do not feel comfortable doing all of these checks yourself. For a small upfront cost of around £75, you can have a professionally trained mechanic look over the car who are well versed in spotting these telltale signs.

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Do not take anything for face value, even if a car appears on the surface to be perfect still do all of the checks we have advised and more some! Ultimately you are looking to pay several thousands of pounds for a car and you are entitled to check it as thoroughly as possible. If you always start from a position of caution you are less likely to purchase a lemon. 

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