Avoiding wrecks: Consumer tips for you

Some steps to minimize the risk of acquiring a pre-wrecked vehicle:

 

–Begin by looking at its reliability record. If repair records aren't available, that's a bad sign.

 

–Order a Carfax report, carfax.com, but remember that it's not possible to know whether the report is complete. If it includes a history of being salvaged, most buyers would probably stop at that point– but not necessarily: If the car passes muster with a mechanic trained to look for signs of substandard rebuilding or potential danger, it may still be worth buying.

 

–Look closely for signs of damage and/or faulty repairs. ConsumerReports.org's "Wrecks in Disguise" report lists 20 signs to look for that commonly indicate damage; Damron's car had at least two, the mismatched paint and faulty seat belts. The first seems like an obvious red flag, but the second is, potentially, even more serious: According to the report, "Frayed safety belts or belt fibers that have melted together because of friction indicate a previous frontal impact above 15 mph."

 

–Remember that most consumers don't have the skills necessary to check some of the items, such as "damaged/gouged nuts and metal on top surface of strut tower" and "welding bead anywhere on heavy frame members beneath the engine." As it stands now, consumers who want to be certain would be wise to hire an expert.

 

–Both print and online media offer a plethora of advice on buying a used car. Examples include the annual auto issue of Consumer Reports, which comes out every April, and cartipsandmore.com.