7 Tips for Identifying Hidden Car Damage


Imagine someone runs into the back of you at a stop light.  You get out, and don’t see any visible damage, but how do you know?  Or maybe you’re in the market for your new used car.  You want to be a savvy car buyer, but how can you check for hidden damage or signs of prior accidents?

Here are some tips on checking for hidden damage:

  1. Lights — Make sure you check the lights immediately following your fender bender to see if they’re still working.  Headlights, rear lights, turn signals, and brake lights should be checked.  If any of your lights are out, it’s a sign you’ve got damage.
  2. Frame or Suspension — This is an easy check to make immediately after being rear-ended.  Measure the distance between the fender and rear wheels with your hand.  If you have four fingers on one side, and only three on the other, then you have a good idea something was bent or moved out of line.
  3. Undercarriage — Another way to check for visible damage is to jack-up the car and eyeball the undercarriage.  Anything look bent or broken?  There’s damage there.
  4. The Trunk — One of the best ways to check for rear end damage is to check if the trunk is still sealing. If the trunk interior is dry, close it, and spray the rear of the car heavily with a garden hose, and look inside again.  Water inside the trunk is a sure sign that the seal is out of line, and probably a good indicator of an accident or rear damage.
  5. Fender Bolts — To check if a fender may have been removed, open the hood and check the fender bolts.  If there is a sign the bolt has been turned, such a paint movement or the bolt is no longer in original alignment, it can be a sign the fender has been replaced.
  6. Paint Variations — Checking a used car’s paint job can give some indicators of an accident.  If you find shiny/dull paint variations, it can often be a sign of new paint – which is a sign of a prior repair job.  “Fisheyes” are small, white dots, surrounded by a ring of paint caused when paint, for various reasons, will not stick to the surface of a vehicle.  Seeing fisheyes in the paint is a sign the car has had bodywork.
  7. Original Vehicle Identification (VIN) Stickers — When buying a car, check all the doors, panels and frames for the VIN stickers.  It is against the law to put a VIN sticker on used or replacement parts, so a missing sticker could be a sign of replacement parts — which is usually a sign of prior damage.

None of these signs can be conclusive of hidden damage or an accident but are simply meant as tips to help you find hidden accident damage or signs of prior damage repair. 

The best course of action is to always exchange insurance information after an accident and bring your car into a collision center, like M3, to be checked for hidden damage. We’ve got your back after an accident, and having the insurance information will help any repair process go smoothly.

As well, bring that potential used car purchase in for a complete inspection. We’ll let you know of any prior damage, can fix any existing damage, and can detail it to make it feel like new to you.

Kelly Keith