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Spotting Accident Damage

Last week I found a new scratch on my Audi S6. It’s annoying, but there are already quite a few small marks on it and not one of them affects the car’s reliability or performance.

This is important to remember.

To find a used car with absolutely perfect bodywork is virtually impossible, and most lovely-looking cars are only lovely looking because they have had some paintwork repairs. Do you think that your local BMW dealer only ever buys gorgeous cars for their stock? No way! Many will be tarted up with paint here, there and everywhere.

This is also important to remember.

So, a bit of new paintwork on a car is fine. But serious accident repair? Well, that’s a completely different story.


I would never advise buying a car that has been in a bad accident, i.e. one where either the chassis or any part of the mechanicals needed to be replaced.

The easiest way to tell this is by running a Car Data Check on the car to make sure it has never been written off.

Category C write-off means the car had structural damage at some point. A Category Dwrite-off is supposed to be just superficial damage, but it can still apply to cars that have had mechanical components replaced. And anyway, you have to ask yourself how much of the bodywork was damaged if it caused the insurance company to write off the whole car.

BUT… not all accidents will be subject to insurance claims, so it is often worth having your potential purchase professionally inspected.


Again, this is not something to get too hung up over; however, cheap repairs make you wonder how much the last owner actually cared for the car.

Of course, it can take years to learn how to spot bodywork repairs; however, here are a few starting points:

Panel misalignment:
The gaps around the doors/boot/bonnet should all be completely uniform. There are some exceptions (such as older Jaguars and doors on pre-2004 VW Golfs that tend to droop over time), but run your finger along the gaps to make sure they are uniform.

Paint texture:
It should shine and glow the same all over. Some repairers find it difficult to match panels. They say that you should never look at a car at night, but actually orange street lights show up mismatched panels very well.

Masking lines/overspray:
The proper way to respray a bumper is to remove it from the car, but cheaper bodyshops use tape to mask them off instead. You are looking for lines in the paint where the masking tape was applied. Look at the joins between the bumpers and bodywork, and on the edges of the wheel arches and doors. Also, gently peel back the rubber trims on the inside edges of the doors and look for small dots of overspray paint.

And as a buyer, the best thing about minor bodywork repairs is the stigma – which means that you can act upset about finding some repairs even if they don’t bother you… and then ask the seller for a big discount on the price!


Ashley Winston
(Founder & Owner)

At Palmdale we specialise in taking all the hassle out of the car buying process:


  • YOU tell us exactly what car you want
  • WE search for every available car in the UK that meets your description
  • WE negotiate with the seller
  • WE make sure that the car is perfect
  • WE collect the car and bring it to your door
  • YOU enjoy your new wheels for many years to come

These newsletters are our attempt to teach you everything we know about car buying; however, if you would like us to find and buy your next car for you, all you have to do is ask!