Buying a Used Car? Check Its Accident History

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels, checking out a car or truck’s accident history isn’t a luxury.

It’s a necessity.

For obvious, if unethical, reasons, sellers don’t want buyers to know about accidents a vehicle has (presumably) survived.

According to CarGurus.com, a Cambridge, Mass.-based online auto shopping website, one in six used cars listed for sale showed an accident in their report. If you don't get a vehicle history report, a "blind buy" of a used car or truck could represent a higher purchase risk than buyers realize.

That goes double for former “fleet-owned” vehicles. Such vehicles, CarGurus.com says, are twice as likely to have had an accident than a privately owned vehicle.

As the firm points out, buying a used car or truck without realizing it has been damaged in an accident can lead to your owning a money pit on four wheels.

“There is great savings potential in buying a used car, but there’s also the potential to get burned if you don’t do your homework,” says Langley Steinert, founder and CEO of CarGurus. “A minor accident or prior fleet ownership does not have to be a deal breaker, but it is information you absolutely need to know as you consider the purchase and the price.”

What can you do to buy a used vehicle confident you’re not being saddled with a unit that’s been compromised by a car accident?

Try these tips on for size:

  • Know the financial stakes: It’s not just the future repairs needed on a car or truck that’s been damaged in a crash. By ignoring a history check, you’ll likely wind up paying more for the vehicle than it is actually worth. CarGurus.com says vehicles involved in accidents are worth up to 12% lower than other vehicles in the same class. Why pay more for a car or truck that’s experienced accident damage, then pay for repairs for that vehicle down the road?
  • Buy a history report: CarGurus.com says a user-car buyer should always buy the vehicle history report before money changes hands. Such reports cost about $40 each, and though not always fool-proof can save you 10 or 20 times that by helping you avoid an accident-damaged lemon.
  • Take the car to a mechanic: If you’re really sweet on a vehicle, take it to a reputable mechanic and have the mechanic run a thorough check on it. CarGurus.com says that may cost you $200 per car, but again, you’re likely saving thousands if the mechanic gives a “thumbs-down” on a car or truck that’s been damaged.
  • Have the paint job checked carefully: According to Richmond, Va.-based CarMax, a repainted car is a huge red flag for vehicle damage. A rough paint finish is usually caused by over-spraying, a good sign the vehicle was damaged in an accident.
  • Clamp down: Also, check for clamp marks on a vehicle's frame that can signify serious collision damage. "A car might be repainted to address cosmetic issues rather than a serious accident," says David Claeys, buying manager at CarMax. "Paint work isn't as big of an indicator as clamp marks on the frame of the vehicle." CarMax advises looking for clamp marks on the frame rail under the car. “Clamp marks look like holes or gashes on the frame of the vehicle. Clamp marks usually indicate that the car has been on a frame machine, which suggests the vehicle may have been in a serious accident.”

CarMax, AutoCheck and CarFax are all good places to start with your vehicle history report.

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