7 On Your Side: How to avoid buying a used car that's a rebuilt wreck

AVENEL, New Jersey (WABC) -- It's one of the most common consumer problems we get: Customers buy a used car and drive off the lot -- never knowing the car had been in an accident months before.

Carfax found 40 percent of vehicles in our area have at least one accident in their history. But those vehicle histories only tell us what's been reported by sources like police and insurance.

That's why customers need to do more research before buying.

A pre-owned BMW that 7 On Your Side checked out at a local used car lot had two front-end accidents on it's vehicle history report.

Most reputable dealers disclose problems, if they know about them.

"Worst-case scenario, you don't know about an accident in its history and overspend by thousands of dollars," said Carfax's Emilie Voss.

Or you could put your family's safety at risk. Even Carfax concedes since what's reported to them is sometimes incomplete, the buyer should look and listen for wreck red flags.

For example, what does the motor sound like and how does it look under the hood?

"You can see if anything has been cracked, if clips are missing or don't match, rust spots on them, it looks like something was impacted and moved and wasn't painted correctly," said Greg Choborda.

Choborda is a licensed mechanic and service foreman at Sansone Auto Mall in Avenel. He has done hundreds of used car inspections.

Choborda checks the seams between a vehicle's body parts. If they don't line up, that could be a tip-off the car has been in an accident.

Next, look in the door jambs, in the trunk and under the hood for evidence of paint over-spray. That could show where damage may have been repaired. And aftermarket parts labeled with a different brand name are also a red flag.

Lastly, look for rust.

"If any of these bolts were rusted and look adjusted into a different position, you know someone was in trying to get the door to fit better," Choborda said.

"Just because it might have an accident or damage, doesn't mean that it's not a great buy," Voss said. "You just want to have a safe and reliable car when you hit the road."

The big takeaway: Get a vehicle history report, take a test drive and most importantly, hire a licensed mechanic to perform a thorough inspection.

This may cost $100 to $200, but given the average price of a used car just topped $20,000, the price to check it out is less than one-hundredth the price.

With that money at stake, it could be well worth the money.

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Nina Pineda has more from 7 On Your Side.



Click here for tips from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs on buying a used car.

Click here for tips from The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.

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