Warning signs that a used car is a rebuilt wreck

Consumer Reports News: May 02, 2012 04:23 PM

If you're shopping for a car, buying a late-model used one can often provide a great balance of value, reliability, and safety. Such cars have already taken their initial big depreciation hit, saving you significant money, plus there is less to finance and insurance will be less. Buying used let's you put a better-equipped car in your driveway than you may be able to afford new. However, used vehicles can also be risky as you may not know its history. Before you buy, check out our list of warning signs that the vehicle may be a rebuilt wreck.

Telltale signs that a car is a rebuilt wreck

  1. Paint that chips off or doesn't match indicates damage repair and poor blending.
  2. Paint overspray on chrome, trim, or rubber seals around body openings reveals that the adjacent panel was repaired.
  3. Misaligned fenders suggest a poor repair job or use of nonoriginal equipment manufacturer (non-OEM) parts.
  4. CAPA (Certified Automotive Parts Association) sticker on any part may indicate collision repair.
  5. Uneven tread wear reveals wheel misalignment, possibly because of frame damage.
  6. Mold or air freshener cover-up suggests water damage from a leak or flood.
  7. Silt in trunk may mean flood damage.
  8. Fresh undercoating on wheel wells, chassis, or engine strongly suggests recent structural repairs covered up.
  9. Door that doesn't close correctly could point to a door-frame deformation and poor repair.
  10. Hood or trunk that doesn't close squarely may indicate twisting from side impact.
  11. Dashboard lights, power windows, and other electronics with intermittent problems could be a sign of flood damage.
  12. Dashboard air-bag indicator that doesn't light up could mean the air bag was replaced improperly--or wasn't replaced at all--after an accident.
  13. Big dents, kinks in structural components, or crimped or crunched fuel lines and pipes underneath are the easiest problems to find because rebuilders assume you won't be looking there.
  14. Uneven surfaces on frame components could be filler, seam sealer, or welding beads.
  15. Damaged/gouged nuts and metal on top surface of strut tower (which connects the front wheels to the frame) in engine compartment may mean the frame was realigned.
  16. New metal on only one part of the hood apron shows section repair rather than replacement of the entire apron piece.
  17. Welding bead anywhere on heavy frame members underneath the engine suggests frame-rail sectioning or sloppy repair of a cutout made in the rail to perform repair work.
  18. Inconsistent welds around hood apron, door, door frame, or trunk exemplify a non-factory weld.
  19. Frayed safety belts or belt fibers that have melted together because of friction indicate a previous frontal impact above 15 mph.
  20. Missing car emblem or name on trunk may mean a non-OEM part was used.

When shopping for a used car, the best protection is to have an independent mechanic look over the vehicle before buying. A profession will have the experience and tools to best assess a car's true condition. Typically, a mechanic will charge a modest fee for the service, but the protection is well worth the investment.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Car Maintenance News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more