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Gephardt: Protecting yourself from overpaying on car with damaged past

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Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – The tax refund season is upon us and it's a busy season for used car lots — maybe more so this year with new stimulus checks rolling out to Utahns.

While there were fewer crashes last year because of the pandemic, millions of damaged cars are still on the roads and in used car lots. Past damage has a big impact on a car's price, so how do you protect yourself from overpaying on a crashed car?

A repaired car can look flawless on the outside. But underneath the hood, you might have a rebuilt wreck on your hands. As many as 40% of cars on the roads right now have sustained damage at some point, according to Carfax data.

"So, it's really important to make sure you look at accident data if you're shopping for a used car," said Emilie Voss with Carfax.

Sure, safety is certainly an extremely important reason why you would want that accident data.

"You want to know if repairs were made," said Voss. "Were they properly made? Did the airbags deploy? Were they properly replaced?"

There's also value to consider. If a car has been in a fender bender, the retail price should be, on average, about $500 less.

"If that vehicle has a severe damage event in its past, that impacts the value by about $1,700, which means you could end up easily overpaying for the vehicle by hundreds if not thousands of dollars," Voss explained.

You want to know if repairs were made. Were they properly made? Did the airbags deploy? Were they properly replaced?

–Emilie Voss, Carfax

To protect yourself from overpaying or from getting stuck in a bad repair nightmare, pull a vehicle history report. Carfax has one, as does

Even if it comes back squeaky clean, have an independent mechanic go over the car thoroughly. It will cost you about $100 to $150, but it could save thousands in surprise repair bills down the road.

"Anytime a seller is not willing to let you get that third-party inspection, that is a red flag," she said. And run — don't walk — from a seller who refuses to let you test drive the car.

From January:

Voss also explained just because a car has been in an accident and has some minor damage doesn't mean it is a bad buy. But if the car has had severe damage, a bent frame or has a branded title because it was deemed a total loss at some point in its history by an insurance company, that is a set of wheels you should consider walking away from.

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Matt Gephardt
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