Hidden damages: What to look out for when you buy a used car

Picture from InvestigateTV's Hidden Dangers Part 2 piece.  (InvestigateTV photo)
Picture from InvestigateTV's Hidden Dangers Part 2 piece. (InvestigateTV photo)(WSAW)
Published: Nov. 6, 2019 at 8:49 PM CST
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You buy a used car and there's no history of an accident, but how do you know for sure? Titles are not always updated and dealers may not know the real history.

"Vehicles are just so expensive as soon as you drive them off the lot you've lost $10,000," said consumer Mickey Lavoie.

What Lavoie didn't expect was to find out his $25,000 used Chevy Silverado used to cruise the border in Texas and Louisiana. It was owned by the Department of Homeland Security's Border Patrol and a few years ago the agency wrecked it, the truck had a clean title and there was no mention of the crash. Mickey sued and settled, but he's now stuck with the truck.

"You should always start at the front of the car when you are looking for a vehicle that you're going to purchase," said Beau Morris.

Beau Morris owns a body shop in Hanover County, Virginia. He has nearly 40 years experience looking for things others might miss. Beau says step one is to always start with the hood and bumper. Look at the bolts keeping the hood in place. "There is no paint missing off of this bolt. Now the rust right here tells me something, that this is the original bolt. You can't put a wrench on this and take it off without knocking the paint off," said Morris.

Also, many manufacturers mark car their car's parts. Toyota puts stickers on them that include the car's VIN. "We know that this hood with this sticker belongs to this vehicle. And it came that way from the factory."

And there's one more thing to look for on the bumper that could be a red flag. It's a yellow sticker with the letters CAPA on the side of the bumper. Morris said, "That tells us right here that this bumper reinforcement has been replaced and it's been replaced with an after market part, so we know there's been an impact to the front of this vehicle."

Step 2: head to the driver side of the vehicle, that's where most t-bone crashes happen. Morris said, "What we're looking for here again is paint missing from these bolts here."

Take a good look at the paint job on the edges along the door. Run your fingers across it. If it's not smooth, the vehicle was repainted at some point, which could indicate a side-impact crash.

Step 3: head to the back of the vehicle and open the trunk. "We're looking for those wrench marks that are common," Morris said.

Morris said, "The bumper has definitely come off either, A, it came off to be repaired or repainted, or it came off because it was hit severe enough that it had to be replaced."

It's a fairly simple bumper-to-bumper check that could reveal an attempt to cover up a crash.