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How Can I Tell If the Vehicle I Am Buying Has Been in the Body Shop?


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Buying a car or truck as you already know is a big investment. For some of us who don't own our own house, it is most likely our largest investment. So when we shop for that used car or truck it is natural that we we want to know about the vehicle we are getting. Has it been in an accident? Were there any major repairs done to the vehicle?

These are important questions. A used car dealer may know the history of the vehicle, but most of the time the cars and trucks that you see on a local car dealer lot come from auctions and your dealer will not know the history. At least half of the time you trade in your vehicle it will end up at a dealer auction. And MOST of the time you turn in your leased vehicle it will end up at auction. So how are we supposed to know what happened to this vehicle that we are eying? What am I getting into here?

The first thing to do is to go to either end of the car and squat down at the corner, such as by the tail light, and look straight down the body of the car, down the body line starting with the quarter panel, down the doors, and right up the fender. Notice the shine or reflections that you are getting off of the paint? That is where you want to start. Are there sections shinier or flatter than others? Does everything line up? Are there any ripples at all? It should look like a nice mirror reflection. If the surfaces of each panel look different, this could be an indication of poorly done body work.

Next, feel the paint all the way around the car. All of the painted surfaces should feel the same. Feel the bumpers and the hood. These are common spots to repaint. Are there any spots on the car that are a little rougher than another? If so, then you have good reason to be suspicious.

If a car has a pinstripe or graphic kit, look along the edge of it to see if a body shop painted part of a body panel. One trick a painter will use to save some work is to only paint part of a panel (if they can get away with it) and only repaint a small area that was most significantly affected by body work. If that is the case, the painter will probably do his masking right next to a pinstripe and try to paint either above it or below it. He will use the stripe line as a stopping point for his paintwork. Feel the edges of the stripe. Do you feel a sharp edge? It's probably been repainted then.

Finally, always look for hints of over spray or an old color that give away an undisclosed paint job. This requires checking door jambs, under the hood, in the trunk and under the gas cap door. Putting in a little extra time while shopping for your vehicle can save you a lot of time and money down the road.

Best of all, buy a used car from someone you trust, be it a dealer or an individual. And never, ever jump at a deal that seems too good to be true. It almost always is.

Mike Briglia is the owner of Custom Auto Trim, specializing in body kits and car and truck graphics, and is based in San Diego CA. Find more information on auto accessories at


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