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How to check if your car has been in an accident

If the used car you’ve just bought is making strange sounds, rattling, stalling or leaking – then you may have just invested in a car that has previously been in an accident.

Driving | consumer rights used car

If you have your doubts about a used car you’ve just bought, or you’re thinking of making a purchase, then read on to find out how you can carry out your own checks for peace of mind.

Key indicators that your vehicle has been in an accident

Paint inconsistencies Paint that hasn’t been tampered with should have a clear reflection, with an even colour all over. Look out for:

  • Distorted reflections in the paint or change in metallic paint or gloss.
  • Slight colour differences (but note that bumpers on older cars can appear lighter)
  • Fresh paint or undercoats showing.
  • Overspray from poor quality resprays, usually around the lights.

Misaligned doors or panel gaps Doors and panels should be perfectly flush with each other.

  • Compare how the panels are on each side of the car are put together. If you notice a gap one side, but not on the other – chances are the car has been put back together for reasons usually linked to an accident
  • Feel the smoothness of the paint for filler, lumps and bumps
Close up of silver car door handle

Under the surface The car might appear fine on the outside, but you might need to dig deeper. Check the boot, specifically under the lining for damage to the rear of the car and under the bonnet for damage to the front. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Non-matching bolts under the bonnet or in the boot
  • Re-drilled holes under the bonnet or in the boot
  • Damaged radiator supports
  • Different colour hinges
  • Large patches of car body filler under the paint or on the inside panels

Unevenly worn tyres This could mean the tracking needs an adjustment – which is normal. But, it could be a sign that the car was damaged and straightened back out, resulting in a misaligned chassis.

  • Ask if the car has been aligned recently
  • Test the alignment by reversing without your hands on the wheel and check your tyre tracks (this is best done with surface water, if possible)

Rust Once rusting begins, it’s hard to stop. Common areas for rusting are:

  • Floors
  • Body panels
  • Brakes
Rust on car break disc

Get it checked professionally

Unfortunately not every seller is trustworthy, so it pays to check the car’s history to save you time, money and heartbreak in the long run.

There are several websites that offer a database service to find out if a car has been involved in a serious accident and written off by an insurance company. All charge a fee for the service, but tend to provide extra details that might be linked to the car reg.

Pay-per-report sites include:

The RAC: £14.99 The AA: £19.99 Cartell: €25 (ROI)

Mechanic inspecting car engine

You’ve bought a lemon, do you have any rights?

Even though your car insurance won’t cover you for damage that happened to your car before you bought it, you may be covered by consumer law.

The Consumer Rights Act in the UK, which replaced the The Sale of Goods Act in 2015, now includes a new act specifically regarding used cars, also known as the “lemon law” in the US.

If your car isn’t fit for purpose, and you make the discovery within the first six months, you might be entitled to a repair or a refund.

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