How to identify an accident damaged vehicle when buying a car #BuyWithCar

When buying a pre-owned vehicle, it is imperative to ensure it does not have a dubious past. Poorly repaired accident-damaged vehicles are a sore topic in the South African second-hand market – here are some things to look out for to ensure you are not taken for a ride.

Previously written-off

When buying pre-owned or second-hand, there may be some handsomely good deals that you encounter. While these do exist, it is imperative that you exercise caution rushing into a purchase without doing your proper homework. Unlike buying new, pre-owned vehicles have had a past with someone else. Ensuring they have a full-service history is critical in understanding that the mechanical components have been correctly cared for but when it comes to accident damage, a closer inspection may to reveal the truth is required.

Related: South Africa’s most popular vehicles for April

Beyond the mechanical components, there may be accident damage. To understand this it is important to differentiate between the various codes of vehicles in South Africa. Code 1 simply means a new vehicle sold by a dealer to its first owner. Code 2 is a pre-owned vehicle that has multiple registrations with more than one owner. Code 3 represents the vehicle permanently unfit for use, these are either Code 1 or Code 2 vehicles that have been involved in an accident and according to an insurer are not financially worth repairing. Further down the list is a Code 4 vehicle that is permanently demolished and unregistered

There are certain instances where a Code 3 vehicle can be correctly repaired and make its way back onto the roads however many that have been written off have hastily been repaired to a poor standard. Fortunately, we have some tips that will enable you in knowing the bad ones from the good.

Now, to be thorough, you will need to get a little bit dirty so ensure when inspecting a vehicle you have loose clothes on that you don’t mind rolling around on the floor with! Here is a methodical approach to inspecting and testing if a vehicle has previous damage, some of these are red flags that should not be ignored.

Inspect the exterior of the car carefully

Identify if the bodywork, like bumpers, fenders and doors are misaligned or if the paintwork is not consistent throughout the vehicle – an easy way to do this is to inspect the panel gaps between components. On the sides, carefully look at the shoulder lines to see if they have been repaired with filler and ensure all exterior trim like grilles, headlamps and diffusers are correctly attached and do not have missing clips, gently pry if need be.

A telltale sign of a repair is taking note of if the number plates on the front and rear are the same – if they are not, either end of the vehicle may have been repaired from previous damage. Headlights are another component that may be a giveaway if a vehicle has been previously repaired, compare oxidization and weathering on each – if one looks brand new and the other looks seasoned, it may have been involved in previous repair.

Check all doors, bonnets and boot lids open and close as they should with weather stripping tightly attached to the metal. Once open, inspect the metal of the A, B and C pillars and where the mechanical points of the doors attach to. If accident damage has occurred and the vehicle has been incorrectly repaired, these critical points may have shifted or been bent.

Open the bonnet and look around

While the bonnet is still open, now is a good opportunity to check if the front end has been involved in an accident. Where the bumper and fender mount to the chassis, check if the same fasteners have been used throughout. If different fasteners are used on one side compared to the others, there is a possibility that it has been repaired before.

Check the chassis arms to ensure there are no bends, creases or welds and inspect the crossbar behind the bumper as this would be the first component to be compromised in a front-end accident. This may require removing some plastic trim or placing a phone into the cavities to record for inspection. While looking around, inspect the front suspension strut tower for any abnormalities.

Get down and dirty to inspect for accident damage

In order to ascertain if a vehicle has damage under the surface, it is best to take a thorough view underneath. It is unlikely that you will have access to a lift, so you may need to inspect it on the ground and get a little bit dirty. Take a torch or use your phone. Red flags are any mangled metal on the floor pan from an accident. This is often the best way to understand if a vehicle has accident damage since some panel beaters don’t repair parts of a vehicle not easily visible to the eye.

Now is also a good opportunity to check mechanical components like the drivetrain and suspension components too. Check for oil leaks under the engine, gearbox and differential and inspect ball joints and bushes on the suspension and exhaust system – this can also give you some room for negotiation if components may need repair or replacement.

While close to the ground, look inside the wheel wells and ensure that the rims and tyres are not sitting at an incorrect angle or have any bent or cracked components connecting them to the chassis. This is also a good opportunity to check for curb rash and scuffed rims.

Look inside

Have a look inside the car. Check trim on the A, B and C pillars as well as the dashboard and trim lines up, ensuring all airbag concealing components are correctly attached. If an airbag has previously been deployed, hasty replacement during repair, often without correct parts, can mean broken clips can no longer hold the component correctly in place.

Go for a drive

As with any car buying process, take the exact model in question for a test drive. It won’t be new which means it is unlikely to be perfect but be cognisant of cars that have excessive vibrations, rattles and veer on the road. All of this may be a result of accident damage. Also inspect from the side of the road if the vehicle drives straight, ‘crab walking’ is an easy-to-spot phenomenon of a bent chassis travelling straight but at a slight angle.

Request a report if the above is too strenuous

External specialist organisations such as Dekra exist to provide a thorough inspection of the vehicle. A used-vehicle condition evaluation report will be generated and compiled by expert examiners.

So, what are you waiting for? Dozens of honest value-for-money deals are out there and with this knowledge, easily attainable too. Browse our listings section here #BuyWithCar.

Also read: In the market for your next car? Look no further than CARmag


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