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Troubleshooter: Avoiding rusted or collision-damaged used-car headaches logo 2022-06-30 Brian Turner
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Our ongoing vehicle shortage has brought a new lease on life to some older used vehicles that once had no business being reconditioned — let alone returned to the front lot for sale.


Unfortunately, skyrocketing prices have retailers and private sellers alike scrambling to find inventory. This means pushing autos either well beyond their prime, or even cheaply patched together after a collision. Either means keeping a sharp, unemotional eye out for the telltale signs of a wheeled pig wearing lipstick. Here are a few things to watch for.

Collision damage that’s been properly repaired shouldn’t mean a vehicle must be avoided. But if the seller isn’t disclosing those details, the auto may still be okay, but the seller certainly isn’t. Don’t rely on those over-advertised collision database reports, as they won’t reveal damage that’s been paid for by an owner out of pocket (when insurance claims aren’t registered).

Many visual cues for collision damaged vehicles have been covered extensively by hordes of automotive journalists over the years, but some bear repeating.

If a vehicle is approaching 10 years of age or pushing some higher mileage, yet has an extremely shiny and deep-coloured coat, it’s likely been painted. There’s nothing wrong with that, but remember that few sellers will spend the thousands it takes to properly strip and refinish the paint when it’s simpler to pull a quick scuff-and-shoot. It may look good for a while, but these types of jobs seldom provide a lasting finish. Open and close every door, the hood, and and the trunk/liftgate to check for any stiffness or rubbing between the moveable panel and those fixed ones next to them. Take a look at the body panel gaps, checking for any that are considerably narrower or wider than the others; this can indicate a slap-dash body job. Under the hood, look for any signs of paint overspray on any black plastic surfaces. Also check wheel-well liners for the same evidence. Also take a close look at any moldings or trim pieces next to painted body panels; even the most experienced paint-prepper will leave a small area unprotected by masking tape, leaving telltale paint on the moldings’ edges.

The big story on what shape a vehicle is in can be found underneath. What was at one time an area impossible to inspect without a hoist, is now available in bright sharp living colour, thanks to our phones. Set the camera to video, turn on the light, get low, and take a slow pass down each side of the vehicle. Reach in as far as possible and record with the main camera lens facing up to capture the undercarriage. Other than looking for anything obviously broken, severely rusted, or leaking, check for any paint-pen markings on components. This may indicate used parts from a salvage yard were installed. Again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, unless it’s a structural component that’s been patched in.

Signs like these mean you’d best seek a proper and thorough inspection by an  independent professional to avoid getting taken for something far less than you expected.


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