• Fri. Dec 8th, 2023

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Ask a Mechanic: Used car’s collision history can’t always be complete

Dear Ask a Mechanic,

After years of driving practical vehicles, I’m finally able to buy something a bit more special and a lot more fun. I’ve found several BMW 430is in online listings, a couple of which had links to their Carfax reports. Two showed crash damage of more than $25,000, but the cars themselves looked great and were appealingly priced. If they’ve been fixed properly, how big of a deal is this?

Crash Course

For those who are not familiar with it, Carfax is company that provides a history report on vehicles. The reports contain dates and select information about things like ownership changes, plate renewals, services performed, and — as one of its primary selling features — accident and damage repair records.

There is also Ontario’s used vehicle information package — which is mandatory for most private vehicle sales and is supposed to be provided by the seller — that includes both a lien search and a list of previous owners in the province. However, these are not required for used car purchases from a registered dealer. They also do not disclose crash records.

Carfax is great tool that offers valuable information, but there are limitations to it. It relies on reports and records from police services, insurance companies and others for its data. This means that you don’t always get a complete history (though what does appear can be helpful), and you won’t see any unreported repairs. If a vehicle was damaged and repaired without police or insurance involvement, it would be impossible for any reporting service to be aware of it.

In the case of your potential purchases, reports were made, and the records show the damage was substantial. I’m not an auto body technician, but I can tell you that repairs in those price ranges would include more than simple cosmetic work. Structural and mechanical repairs were almost certainly involved.

Collision repair is both an art and a science, and even the most skilled and best-intentioned tradespeople can miss things like gaps in seams and damage to wiring that may not become a problem until long after. Replacement panels don’t always have the same corrosion protection as the originals, so rust could form prematurely. It’s also difficult to exactly match the original paint (metallic and pearl finishes in particular), so in certain lighting the colour mismatch may be visible.

While some of those concerns don’t apply to minor, cosmetic damage, crash records can still affect the resale and trade-in value of the car down the road. Unless the deal is too good to pass up, and you’re not concerned about future value loss, I’d try and find a less damaged car to enjoy.

Ask a Mechanic is written by Brian Early, a Red Seal-certified automotive technician. You can send your questions to [email protected]. These answers are for informational purposes only. Please consult a certified mechanic before having any work done to your vehicle.


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