How to check for previous damage on a used vehicle

Thoroughly inspecting a pre-owned vehicle is necessary if you want to avoid surprises down the road

Reuben Van Niekerk
used vehicle
pre owned vehicle
accident damage

Buying a pre-owned vehicle has its risks in the fact that you can never be sure of the history of the vehicle, such as whether it has been in an accident, which has necessitated extensive repairs


When shopping for a pre-owned vehicle there are a number of things to look out for that could give hint to the fact that the vehicle has needed to be repaired at some point in its life.



  • Look for changes in colour between body panels.
  • Run your hand over the paintwork and feel for rough or uneven surfaces.
  • The edges or corners of panels might show signs of repainting.
  • Vehicles that are 3 or 4 years old should have some marks, like stone chips on the bumpers. If the bumpers on a vehicle of this age look brand new, they have most probably been repainted.
  • Inspect the gaps between the various body panels, these should all be equal and well aligned, if not the panels have most likely been replaced.



  • Vehicle badges should be straight and aligned, if not they have most probably been replaced following a paint job.
  • The plastics around the engine bay and boot should be of equal colour and equal age.
  • Ensure that the paint under the bonnet is consistent in colour with the rest of the vehicle.
  • If possible, inspect the chassis legs for signs of damage or repair.
  • Ensure that all plastic panels are consistent in fit and finish and that they show no signs of removal or replacement, such as misalignment or loose corners due to broken clips.
  • Inspect the bodywork surrounding the spare wheel well for kinks and distortion.



  • Inspect the wheels for any signs of scratches or discolouration.
  • Take careful notice of the wheels placement in the wheel well and ensure that the placement is consistent all round.
  • Irregular caster, camber or out of specification wheel alignment could be a sign of suspension damage.


Have a look underneath

If possible slide under the vehicle or ask the dealer to put it up on a lift and look out for rust or damage to the bodywork, suspension and exhaust.


Request a report

If the vehicle is not being sold with a report from an independent vehicle inspector such as Dekra, request the dealer to subject the vehicle to such an inspection.


A report, such as those compiled by Dekra is a customized, professional used vehicle condition evaluation completed by expert, independent, examiners. The quality of these independent reports ensures complete peace of mind when purchasing a vehicle as it virtually eliminates any surprises.