Should I buy an awesome car with accident history?
March 15, 2012 8:05 PM   Subscribe

This car is totally pimped out, has really low mileage, and a really low sticker price. It's also been in a severe accident. Should I buy it?

So, the car is a 2007 Honda Fit Sport Hatchack, automatic, with a vtech engine. It has 62,800 km on it. It's a private sale off Kijiji, and they're asking for $8,100.

The car is full of cool gadgets - the sellers clearly put some love into their car. It comes with a mounted GPS/CD/DVD player screen. Plus they've mounted a larger mirror on top of the original rear view mirror, added lights to the license plate and to the radio antenna and added decorative frames to the license plates. Plus it has tinted windows, power locks, power windows, keyless entry.

I don't know much about cars, but the test drive went well. It gets up to speed quickly, stops on a dime, the inside looked clean and well-cared for. There were some minor paint chips, plus the classic key-scratch all around the car, but other than that things looked good.

This car is the second owner, they've had it for about 8 months. When I asked if it had been in any accidents, they said they hadn't had problems, but they didn't know about the previous owner. They gave me the VIN and I looked up the Carfax. According to the Carfax, it had been in a "severe accident involved left front impact", but the airbags did not deploy and there was no structural damage reported.

After test driving the car, I went and bought the Carproof. The "damage claim" was $11,593.00, and the "estimate" was $13,588.00, for 02/04/2010. The car is registered as normal in Ontario, and I didn't see any other issues in either report.

According to the owners, they need to sell the car ASAP because they're been a family emergency back home, and they need the money, and that's why they've listed it for so cheap. They said they bought it for $11,000, which is consistent with Kelley Blue Book data. Plus their dad (the owner) doesn't drive much and the son just bought a car so they don't really need it. They've had it listed on Kijiji for maybe a week, and they said that I'm the first one to test drive it.

They seem like decent guys. They told me about all the cool gadgets but they weren't pushy or slimy or smooth, just kind of quiet. So part of me thinks that if they were more confident in sales they'd ask for more.

So, if I'm not totally nuts to take a car with that much previous damage, the plan is to take it to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection, ask his opinion, and if that checks out, I'll buy the car. But I wanted the opinion of the hive mind before I spend $100 on an inspection.

What does that amount of damage mean?

Oh, and I forgot to mention - I really want this car!
I also want something safe and reliable. Thoughts?
posted by Jade_bug to Travel & Transportation (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The fact that you're asking this question means that in your heart you already know the answer.

No, you should not buy it, because if you do you will be purchasing an unknown quantity that could end up costing you a significant sum in fixes down the road. There's no way a mechanic's inspection is going to be guaranteed to turn up every issue or future failure in a car that has been extensively reconstructed after an accident that almost "totaled" it from an insurance standpoint.
posted by killdevil at 8:09 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know that you need a mechanic as much as a body shop. The frame of the car is one of your concerns (in short, I'm dead set against buying the car no matter what the mechanic or body shop says) after a severe crash. If it's not sound, or if it's slightly out of alignment, it can lead to all sorts of other issues. The reason they're selling the car so cheap is because they know that.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 8:11 PM on March 15, 2012

I would not buy it. There are lots of cars out there that haven't been in serious wrecks. Plus, the "pimped out" shit that you mention? Screams illegal road racing to me. I would never buy a vehicle that's been raced unless I was specifically looking for a vehicle to race.
posted by mollymayhem at 8:21 PM on March 15, 2012

Man, it's hard to believe that with an $11,593.00 insurance claim, no airbags were deployed in the incident. You really have to work at that in a Honda.

Sorry pal. All I can hear is my mother's (entirely accurate) voice in my head, telling me how I'd be crazy to throw away money on a recently near-totalled car.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:26 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

What it sounds like to me is it got in a near-total accident (those claims are close to KBB value of the car, at least in the US) and decided to take the payout rather than let the insurance company fix/total it. Then they spent a few grand on some bodywork and flashy accessories to pawn it off on someone and take money from them.

Maybe I'm suspicious as hell, but that's what the story sounds like to me.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

There will be other totally awesome cars. Nthing don't buy it.
posted by chasles at 8:27 PM on March 15, 2012

So here the thing: the Honda Fit is a unibody vehicle, not a body-on-frame vehicle. Unibody vehicles use their external and internal body panels as a substitute for a formal, separate frame. The body is the frame. So if you bend up the body in an accident, you've bent the frame. You can repair it, but without knowing the quality of the repair work, it's a real crapshoot.

From the repair estimate, it sounds like this car was totaled, then fixed. That's a lot of bad mojo to overcome.

Personally, I would pass on this. Unless you know what you are doing, this vehicle is more likely to cause you trouble and heartache than not. Sorry.
posted by mosk at 8:28 PM on March 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Face the car. Turn around. Run.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:29 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

No, don't buy it. This is from someone who bought a car a couple of months before Carfax came on the scene... and being able to get a report on this car would have saved me enormous trouble. This is an awful expensive roll of the dice your talking about here.
posted by azpenguin at 8:29 PM on March 15, 2012

Walk (or take the bus) away. A bunch of aftermarket electronic bling does not a safe or reliable car make. And their reasons for selling it so cheap sound entirely sketchy.
posted by islander at 8:32 PM on March 15, 2012

Every occupied seat belt needs to be replaced. Don't buy.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:32 PM on March 15, 2012

Plus their dad (the owner) doesn't drive much and the son just bought a car so they don't really need it.

Don't do it. I once nearly bought a car with a similar story behind it. Oh, it was their elderly father's car, and he never drives and who knows about the front impact crash with the previous owner?! Never mind that when I looked at the title, it belong to a Mr. Yang but was being sold by some Italian dude with a different last name.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:43 PM on March 15, 2012

Jade_bug: "Oh, and I forgot to mention - I really want this car!
I also want something safe and reliable. Thoughts?"

You might think you want this car, but you don't - you want a car just like this that hasn't been written-off.

Anyway, these two statements are a contradiction - this car will almost certainly not be safe or reliable.

You are being bullshitted to by experts who know how to lull you into thinking you're getting a bargain. All that stuff about 'family emergency', 'doesn't drive much' etc? Oldest trick in the book. Run (don't drive) away from this deal.
posted by dg at 8:50 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow - I posted this because I didn't know how I should interpret $14,000 in damage, but mostly because I wanted affirmation that I was making a good decision. But you have spoken unanimously.

Thanks everyone - I'm dropping this one and I'll test drive a couple Nissan Versas tomorrow.

But I'll probably ask to buy the license plate frames off them :D
posted by Jade_bug at 8:59 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Life is a risky business. Live a little, take a risk or two.

This may be something to run a million miles from, but not necessarily. The way to find out is to ask someone who can tell you what state the car is in. Accident damage is not the death knell for a car, if it is fixed properly - that is what you have to find out if you want this car.

So if you like the car, take it to a workshop/body shop, and have them check it out. If it checks out, go back and use the info about the crash to hammer the sellers on the price. When/if you get them to a price that gives you some cover (ie, less than the book value for the car), you have a deal to assess.
posted by GeeEmm at 9:17 PM on March 15, 2012

One more vote against buuying this'un- and one thing that hasn't been mentioned is that in a wreckcident like this the integrity of the rust protection is also seriously compromised.
posted by drhydro at 9:36 PM on March 15, 2012

Don't buy this car. Get the same car, but certified pre-owned. Eleven grand of damages is INSANE!
posted by oceanjesse at 9:39 PM on March 15, 2012

Another thing to consider when you look for an alternative to this one:

totally pimped out is a drawback, not a benefit. As someone above said, it means it was probably raced. The sorts of kids who race cars (or even the sorts who generally think lights around the licence plate and radio antenna are a good idea), don't usually have much overlap with the sorts of people who take cars to reliable mechanics for regular servicing; make sure they are following the manufacturer's recommendation for oil changes and fuel type, and drive carefully to preserve the car's life.

Secondly, cars that are obviously "pimped out" seem to attract thieves, joyriders, and vandals, at least in my neighbourhood. That key scratch around the car is probably not unconnected to the fact that the "sellers clearly put some love into their car". If you don't want to be a target, you want an unobtrusive car with no obvious aftermarket "improvements".
posted by lollusc at 10:27 PM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Jade_bug: "Wow - I posted this because I didn't know how I should interpret $14,000 in damage, ..."

Just for future reference, there's an easy way to interpret that much damage on a car that is priced at $8,100. It's called a 'write-off'.

There is a very good reason why, here in Australia, any car that has been written-off is required to be entered on a publicly available register. Another (admittedly unlikely) possibility to consider is that the car you are looking at is not the car that belongs to the VIN attached to it and is, in fact, a stolen car that has been 're-birthed' by having its original VIN replaced with one that belongs to a written-off car. This is the other reason written-off cars are required to be registered here.
posted by dg at 10:43 PM on March 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

As someone who recently sold his car due to serious engine trouble, I say RUN AWAY.

The difference is that I made clear that the engine was damaged in my for sale post, and introduced the buyer to my mechanic. The mechanic gave his diagnosis. The buyer was specifically interested in fixing up the engine.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:34 PM on March 15, 2012

I seriously doubt this car has been involved in road racing! The OP doesn't mention any performance mods--hello improved intake, suspension mods, exhaust improvements?--and surely these would be a selling point. If anything, a larger rear-view mirror on top of the original "screams" granny safety driver. No, this variety of "pimped out" sounds mostly like a kid adding some cheap bling their car. But let's break it down:

$0 - Power locks - standard on the base trim level for 2007
$0 - Power windows - standard on the base trim level for 2007
$0 - Keyless entry - standard on the base trim level for 2007
$29 - Window tinting
$15-50 - Decorative frame and lights for the plate
$231 - Lighted radio antenna
$1200 - In-dash CD/DVD/GPS
$1510.00 Actual value those pimped out extras add to the car.

As someone who has owned and worked on more than six cars and motorcycles, including some built for street racing, that $1500 only gives me 10-15% more good feeling about the car against its $11-14K damage. Not enough in my book to make it worth the leap of faith.
posted by cocoagirl at 2:10 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

just an FYI to all you street racers out there, the 2007 honda fit (mine, at least) has negligible pickup and is pretty underpowered in general. if someone tried to race this car, they were probably the laughingstock of all their buddies.
posted by genmonster at 3:43 AM on March 16, 2012

$11,000 in damage is huge for a car like this. I suspect, if you took a look at the title, it would have "salvage" or "rebuilt" on it.

Yeah..Walk away.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:08 AM on March 16, 2012

Also, consider how you would try to sell this yourself down the line knowing it's been in a severe accident.
posted by Dragonness at 6:22 AM on March 16, 2012

I'd be suspicious of a VIN swap.
posted by roboton666 at 7:19 AM on March 16, 2012

Nthing the people who say that those are not street-racing modifications (as cocoagirl says, street-racer types usually start with intakes, exhausts, wheels/tires, suspension, that kinda stuff).

That said, though, this is not the car you want.
posted by box at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2012

The critical thing -- this car may kill you.

Unibody cars of today have crumple zones. These are designed to bend away slowly, which both absorbs some of the energy of the crash, and far more importantly, extends the duration of the force, which reduces the acceleration you feel -- basically, by crumpling, it takes longer for the total energy to reach you. These crumple zones are the *single* biggest reason that cars are safer today in higher speed crashes.

The point of the seat belts is you keep you in the safety zone that won't crumple, but it can only take so much energy before it collapses. If that saftey cage failes, you will probably die. The crumple zones are there to collapse and absorb the energy that would otherwise try to collapse the saftey cage and then hit you directly.

If this car has taken that much damage, then they have already done so.

It is for all intents impossible to restore them on a unibody car. You can stretch it back out and put all the mount points in the right place, but the metal that bent is now weaker -- and that means if you should get into an accident, it's going to crumple far faster and absorb less energy doing so.

All of that extra energy will then go into bending the structural compartment keeping the rest of the car from hitting you, and, well, into you.

Do not do it. A wrecked unibody car should be shredded.
posted by eriko at 8:31 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do not do it. A wrecked unibody car should be shredded.
The other possibility, as others have suggested, is that the wrecked car was shredded, but its VIN number was applied to another, likely stolen, vehicle.

Either way, stay away.
$1510.00 Actual value those pimped out extras add to the car.
I otherwise agree with cocoagirl's comments, but $1510 is the cost of those extras. Their value is up to the buyer, and probably worth a lot less than their cost.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:12 AM on March 16, 2012

but its VIN number was applied to another, likely stolen, vehicle.

Tougher to do nowadays. They put the whole VIN on a number of parts, and a partial on even more. Heck, my glass has the VIN number.

Honda's public locations are on the dash, on the firewall, and on the driver's side door jamb on the service sticker. One well known "hidden" one is on the body behind the catalytic converter, this is why when cops are checking for a swapped VIN, they'll want to put the car on a lift. Other locations known are on the transaxle and bumpers, but those are replaceable enough that a mismatch doesn't automatically tell you the VIN has been swapped -- even if the VIN on the part keys back to a scrapped title, since the part may have been salvageable.

Later ones have the VIN stamped onto the firewall, but I don't know when they started to do that.

Swapping the dash plate isn't that hard, but making the dash, the firewall and the service sticker match is hard. If there's any damage, or a metal plate there, you assume fraud, run away, and call the cops on a stolen vehicle.
posted by eriko at 9:52 AM on March 16, 2012

Hard to do, but easier than straightening out a bent unibody.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:56 AM on March 16, 2012

I bought a sports car some years ago, second hand, and it never quite drove right. It would tramline periodically, sometimes it wouldn't run straight, and at speed it cornered better one way than the other. I put it down to the funky four wheel drive and four wheel steering computer.

After about a year of ownership, the engine lunched itself. The workshop I took it to said that whoever had assembled the engine hadn't effectively bled the oil lines, among other things.

I sold it in bits to a young mechanic in another city. Some weeks later he called me up to let me know how it was going - he said it was pretty obvious once it was on a hoist that it had been in a massive prang and the chassis had been bent back into shape.

Do not buy that car.
posted by Sutekh at 4:26 PM on March 16, 2012

Yes, b1tr0t, that's the right way to say it. It's a dollar value reality-check so Jade_bug can decide how to value those extras.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:13 AM on March 17, 2012

Not to mention that the suspension on a brand-new Honda Fit is crap. Indiana doesn't take care of their roads and I test-drove a Fit on the crappy roads (having previously decided it was THE car for me and was definitely getting one) and I hated it. Got a different car instead.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:53 AM on March 17, 2012

Thanks all.

Just an update: Today I put down a deposit on a 2008 Nissan Versa from a dealer. 94,000 km, $7995.

The Carfax was perfect, the Carproof said that it had a rear end claim of $2300. Two unbiased mechanics told me that's no big deal, because it costs $1,000 to replace a bumper.

The mechanic I took it to said that it was in good condition, the dealer is just going to fix a few stone chips in the windshield and then everything is fine in terms of safety. He couldn't find any evidence of damage and he said in the next few years I should only expect the routine maintenance.

I'm not as excited about this Versa as I would have been about a Honda fit, but I'm comfortable that it's a good decision. And I'm going to be on the road in a week! :D
posted by Jade_bug at 3:37 PM on March 17, 2012

The mechanic I took it to said that it was in good condition
Mechanics aren't the people you should be asking about body damage. Mechanics work on the mechanical parts - the engine, drivetrain, suspension, etc.

You should be talking to a body shop about body damage.

I buy that the bumper costs at least $1000 to replace, but I'd still try to avoid buying a car with any collision claims at all. There are a plenty of good cars out there without such damage.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:38 PM on March 18, 2012

$2,300 damage on a modern car is next to nothing - it can cost that much to fix a minor bump these days. Sounds like you made a good decision. Enjoy the freedom that having your own car gives you!
posted by dg at 2:47 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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