In the market for a used car? 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? We set out to find out.
Shoppers take the challenge
With the help of the car history service CARFAX, and a local dealer, Jake Sweeney , we set up three used cars for sale: All of them less than 4 years old, all under 50,000 miles, all looking almost as good as new.
But one of them was a rebuilt wreck.
Maurice Hampton and Mike Brush were among a bunch of mid-day shoppers who we asked to take part in this "CARFAX challenge."
They inspected the two Jeeps and a Scion, trying to pick which had been badly damaged. They both picked the silver Jeep.
"So which car do you think was the wreck?" I asked them.
"I think [the Jeep], obviously," Hampton said.
Brush agreed: 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."
But they were both wrong.
Kathleen and Sam Turner also turned agreed to take our 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," Turner said, "because it is so pristine looking. If they are all the same model year then that's my guess."
But 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? In true Sherlock Holmes style, 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? It 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 us 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 reported accident, the vehicle was damaged all along the left side. It was taken to a repair facility and fixed up." He showed the report, which detailed the Scion's damage.
But without a report, Basso says 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 said.
What you can do
Carfax tell us 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.com, for a small fee. Dealers will often waive that fee. Also, some state motor vehicle departments will also release a car's accident records.
Finally, if you are buying from a private party, try to have a mechanic look it over first.
As always, don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
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