Don't Waste Your Money: Could you spot a rebuilt wreck?

Can you spot the car that was in a wreck but repaired?
Can you spot the car that was in a wreck but repaired?

(Toledo News Now) - If all you do before buying a used car is take a test drive and look under the hood, you could be setting yourself up for disaster.

These days, most used cars on dealer lots look as good as new cars. But underneath, some of them are hiding a dangerous secret: They've been wrecked, then repaired and repainted.

Could you tell the difference? 

Shoppers take the challenge

With the help of the car history service CARFAX, and a Cincinnati car dealer, we set up three used cars for sale. All of them were less than 4 years old, under 50,000 miles, looking almost as good as new. But one of them was a rebuilt wreck.

Maurice Hampton and Mike Brush were among a bunch of shoppers who took part in the "CARFAX challenge."

They inspected the two Jeeps and a Scion, trying to pick which had been badly damaged. They both picked the silver Jeep.

"I think [the Jeep], obviously," Hampton said.

Brush agreed, saying the Jeep was too shiny in his eyes to be a used car.

"I think it's this Jeep also," he said. "The components looks relatively new." 
They were both wrong.

Kathleen and Sam Turner also took the challenge. This mom also felt the silver Jeep was too clean, and must have been wrecked.

"I'm guessing the Jeep down on the end," Kathleen Turner said. "Because it is so pristine looking. If they are all the same model year, then that's my guess."

She was wrong too.

Only Daniel Welling had a different feeling.

"My guess would be this one right here," he said. "Only because of the frame on this rim right there."

His one clue? He spotted a scraped wheel rim, surrounded by a too-perfect tire and fender.

"Somebody must have curbed it," Welling said.

He was right.

One car severely damaged in wreck

"It was hit in the front and side and rear, so the whole side of the vehicle's been painted," admitted car dealer Zac Sweeney, who has the car listed for sale, but plainly identified as a wrecked and rebuilt vehicle, and priced accordingly.

The wrecked car was the black Scion.

Sweeney says half the black Scion was wrecked, straightened, and repainted, but it took his dealer's expert eye to show the line where masking tape trimmed off a paint job.

Chris Basso of Carfax said, "A Carfax report would tell you that this car was in a reported accident, the vehicle was damaged all along the left side. It was taken to a repair facility and fixed up."

Basso's report detailed the Scion's damage. However, without a report, Basso said most people would never know it.

"It's the cars where you don't know the history, you don't know if the repairs were done properly, that could really cause you problems in the future," Basso explained.

What you can do

Carfax suggests if you are buying a used car:

  • Check for repaint lines.
  • Look for uneven gaps around doors, hood, and trunk.
  • Look for newer parts under the hood or underneath that don't match the rest of the car.

Then be sure to get a vehicle history report, either from Carfax or a competitor like Auto Check, for a small fee. Dealers will often waive that fee. Also, some state motor vehicle departments will release a car's accident records.

Finally, if you are buying from a private party, try to have a mechanic look it over first.

That way you don't waste your money.

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