Although the salesman or seller might tell you that this car is accident-free or that it is well maintained and park under the shade most of the time. Do NOT believe everything they say. There is nothing like your own pair of eyes you can trust. We go through different areas of a car here and what you should look out for in each area.
Before we start, bring along these simple tools to help you during the inspection.
1) Pen and Paper
2) Small Flashlight (LED keychain type would be perfect)
3) Some Tissue (for checking of engine oil)
4) CD or MP3 player (to check the vehicle's Stereo)
This is usually the first place you will find evidence of a repair, whether minor or major. A new paint job could mean that the vehicle could be involved in a recent accident, had been repaired and a given a fresh coat of paint to cover up the damage. However, some owners re-paint their cars for aesthetic reasons as well.
Look at the car from a distance. If you detect a slight difference in colour tone between body panels, it is an indication that part of the car was damaged and repaired.
Other tell-tale signs of a car being repainted includes over-spray inside door jambs, inside the gas-filler cap and under wheel wells. Another must-do is to check the area underneath the boot floor - look out for uneven welds and paint in there and around the spare wheel well. Bad welding or uneven paint in there might mean the car might have had a rear shunt before.
Dings and Dangs
A pre-owned car will undoubtedly come with a few nicks and scratches as part of daily driving. These minor imperfections are no cause for concern.
Walk around the car and examine the body in close detail. Record down any dings you find. Use your findings as a bargain chip when negotiating for a lower price with the dealer or seller.
Look at the car from an angle and pay attention to light reflections. If you find ripples (distortion) in the reflection, it is an indication that the body has received some form of repair. An accident free car would have a nice, smooth and straight reflection.
Also, check the gaps between body panels. An uneven gap is also a sign that the car has been through an accident.
When buying an old car, look out for repairs on rust. Check under the carpets on the inside and under wheel wells for signs bad corrosion. Unless the car is relatively new (below 10 years of age), slight corrosion is acceptable.
Examine the windshield (front and rear) carefully under lit conditions. Besides some light scratches, any other forms of damage to the windscreen are unacceptable. Be mindful of hairline cracks as they may sometimes look like a scratch.
Windshields are expensive to replace, thus paying closer attention to them is crucial.
Check the rubber seals around the windshields for any form of rotting or damage rubber as well.
Due to the myriad of lights on a car, it is easier to start from one place and move through the whole car section by section to avoid missing any. Check that all exterior and interior lights are working.