5 ways to spot a previously damaged vehicle

September 06 2018

When you buy a new vehicle off the lot, you know what you're driving home. But buying a used car comes with a degree of uncertainty. Want to feel a little more secure with your purchase? Here are five ways to check for previous damage.

1. Examine the car thoroughly.

Fire up the engine. And, at a basic level, make sure everything works: Test the locks, windows, horn, radio, wipers, lights and heating and cooling system. Look for warning indicator lights. Likewise, examine the body for any sign of an accident like scratches, dents or a bent frame. 

2. Check for potential flood damage.

Telltale signs include:

  • Musty odors or the scent of heavy cleaners and air fresheners
  • Water stains on the carpets and upholstery
  • Corrosion, especially in hidden areas like under the seats, trunk or hood
  • Moisture or fog behind the instrument panel or exterior and interior lights

3. Get a vehicle history report.

Using the VIN, obtain a vehicle history report through a paid service such as CarFax or a free service like the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. Pay close attention to whether the car has a branded title.

4. Research branded titles.

A branded title can tell you a lot about a vehicle's history. For example, a car damaged in a flood and declared a total loss could remain in circulation with a "flood title," where a vehicle totaled in a collision might have a "salvage title." Branded designations vary from state to state. 

5. Get a professional opinion.

No matter how good the car looks on paper or in person, a second opinion is always a smart idea. Vehicle history reports aren't 100 percent accurate, and a pro may pick up on details that you miss.

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