Would You Buy A Car That Has Been In An Accident?

by Don Elliott on November 24, 2011

Would you buy a car that has been in a car accident? Most people I know are quick to answer this question with a resounding, “No!” Let’s take a minute to see if that is really the best answer. First we need to know what we mean when we refer to an “accident.” Was it a spilled cup of coffee or a chain reaction crash out on the Interstate? Was the front end knocked off the car or the bumper scraped? Are we talking multiple “accidents” or just one fender bender? There are a number of variations that could impact your decision to buy a car that was in a car accident.

Cars are designed to take a pretty good beating over their lifetime. Car manufacturers consider repair procedures as part of the design of each model. Many vehicle sub-assemblies can be removed and replaced without seriously affecting the integrity of the car. Collision repair shops are becoming more sophisticated, adding new welding equipment for all of the various metals interspersed throughout the infrastructure of the car. The computer has become one of the technician’s most important tools. Manufacturers and repair facilities have recently agreed on repair standards and open access to repair information. Access to new and used parts from a variety of resources helps guide the shop to the best possible repair. New technology has changed what was previously called frame damage to damage to the unibody structural component, an important distinction when evaluating repairs. This is all to point out that the severity of the accident, where it was damaged, and who did the repair are all important when considering whether or not to buy a car that has been in an accident.

Historically, auto auctions, dealers, consignors, and private sellers have not had easy access to the repair records when offering a car or truck for sale. Auto auctions frequently physically inspect vehicles at the request of commercial consignors before their cars are offered for auction sale. The National Auto Auction Association has developed standards to determine whether a vehicle has had structural damage, but the details of the accident and who made the repairs are usually unknown. More recently, vehicle history report providers have added accident detail to their reports. Consumers can decide for themselves whether the damage warrants the asking price by the seller.

The selling price will always be lower for a car that has been in a car accident. However, it is possible to find a great used car value on a car that had been in a minor car accident and repaired correctly. On the other hand, a poorly repaired car or one that is beyond proper repair should not be on the road at any price. If you suspect that a car has been in a car accident, have a mechanic or body repair technician do a thorough independent inspection. Body shops can evaluate the repair and measure the unibody or frame repair to make sure the car is within tolerance levels established by the car’s manufacturer. Expect to pay a fee that may be more than $100, especially if the shop provides structural measurement. Ask for an evaluation of the paint work as part of the inspection. Good body work can be offset by a bad paint job.

Finally, when you are aware that a vehicle may have been in a car accident, ask to see the title before closing the deal. Cars with a clean title are worth considerably more than cars with branded titles. Potential buyers should also take the car for an extended test drive. Some repaired cars look fine and drive well at low speeds, but illustrate drivability issues at higher speeds.

Would I drive a car that has been in a car accident? Absolutely! I own two cars and a motorcycle that have car accident histories. And I have a little extra money in my pocket because of the deals that I was able to negotiate on them.

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