Used car has been in an accident: buy or walk away?
October 29, 2014 4:43 PM   Subscribe

As per previous questions, I continue to be in the market for a used vehicle.. passed on the last two vehicles. Here's another problematic case. Mechanic found accident damage. What to do?

This beauty is a used car from a rental fleet - a 2012 with about 40,000 miles. It's a very reliable make and model, but no longer under the manufacturer's warranty due to the mileage. It has the features I want, is a nice car, being sold about $1000 under value. The dealer is offering a 1 year powertrain warranty. Great. Had a clean Autocheck. Great! Took it to my mechanic.. not so great.

Mechanic tells me that the car has definitely been in an accident -- one of the doors, he tells me, has been repaired, repainted and the repair work was not perfect either (it doesn't close as easily as all of the other doors). I also noticed during the test drive that when I tested the brakes (came to an abrupt stop), the brake pedal shuddered and made a loud noise. My mechanic said that he thinks the brakes pass inspection but the rotars probably need replacement (I have no idea what that really means). Overall, mechanic said that if I want to save money (and I do), the car might be a good investment -- If I don't plan on re-selling it anytime soon. His main concern was that the accident damage would mean the car would be undervalued at re-sale (or trade in) time. Safety wise, he wasn't worried. He thought the rotars could be fixed with $500 of work - so he suggests negotiating the price down.

The dealer denies that there was an accident (but admits it's possible a renter damaged it and had it fixed). Said he'd have the mechanics take a look at the brakes and fix anything that was amiss. (Great?)

Well the mechanics come back and say they can't find anything wrong.

Dealer offers to chop off $500 from the price.

I'm not sure what to do. I could keep shopping (leaning toward this), but I am getting so tired of shopping. If my mechanic is right -- that the brake pedal issue can be fixed and that the car is otherwise basically fine -- then I'm wondering if I shouldn't just get it. There's the 1 year warranty and the mechanic is pretty trustworthy. He should be able to take care of the brake thing, no? On the other hand, I hate the idea of buying a car and then having to get work done. That seems like a really fucking stupid idea. On the non-existent third hand, I hate the idea of continuing to shop, too. There might be one other option for getting the same make/model, but it's a bit outside of my budget.

So.. what to do? Continue shopping.. or just get this thing?
posted by Gray Skies to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The brake problem sounds like no big deal to me. I'd agree with your mechanic on this, but as someone who rents a lot of cars and has been around a lot of people that rent cars.... I'd never buy one post rental fleet. Lease fleet? Yes. Rental? Not a chance. They just don't get looked after.

The dealer denies that there was an accident (but admits it's possible a renter damaged it and had it fixed).

This is a massive red flag to me. It means someone got a 'throw it in their mate's shop and get it bodged back together good enough that they won't lose their deposit' fix. No-one, but no-one crashes a rental car and fixes it (without the rental company knowing) in particularly good faith. You do it so you don't get caught. Nothing about that says good quality workmanship to me, just 'do enough to get by'.

Walk away.
posted by Brockles at 5:34 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Best answer: This beauty is a used car from a rental fleet [...] being sold about $1000 under value.

Then go buy it. If you value it less than the price, it is worth you buying it.

I think you meant "$1000 under NADA Guide" (or equivalent). That's meaningless, as you already know (but seem not to accept).

the rotars probably need replacement (I have no idea what that really means).

The brake rotors are the circular metal discs that the brake pads are compressed against to stop the car. You can see them through the wheel. If they are not straight for some reason or another, the car will shudder when braking because the brake pads will not uniformly press against the rotor.

Overall, mechanic said that if I want to save money (and I do), the car might be a good investment -- If I don't plan on re-selling it anytime soon.

Okay, then why not take him at his word? Do you plan on re-selling the car in the short term?

So.. what to do? Continue shopping.. or just get this thing?

We can't answer this question for you. Really.

You need to figure out how much you value a car and how much you dislike shopping. Let me ask a question - would you buy this car for $10,000 less than it's priced now? I think the answer will be yes. There is always a price at which a car is worth buying for you. Go figure out what it is. Offer that price to the dealer. If they decline, continue shopping or re-evaluate that price. If they accept, you just bought a car.

I think you want an objectively "best" car to buy. We don't know what that is, because we aren't you. You may just have to settle with an acceptable car, knowing that car buying is at best a highly variable process. You won't lose anything for not buying the objectively "best" car in the world. Give yourself some slack. The car might explode the moment you drive it off the lot - but that's always a risk, regardless of what you buy. You just have to make a decision. The mechanic is even saying it's a reasonable purchase - from my experience, they are the most pessimistic opinion you can find.

For what it's worth, my current car is an off-lease fleet car that had been involved either once or twice in an unreported rear-end accident that resulted in bending the frame. I took a risk, and it paid off rather well - the car has been completely trouble-free. My previous car had no accidental damage at all (even minor scratches) - and then the transmission died just after 100,000 miles. Them's the "brakes", as it were.
posted by saeculorum at 6:05 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


...and the repair work was not perfect either (it doesn't close as easily as all of the other doors).

I'm not as knowledgeable about cars as Brockles but this is another red flag to me. Shoddy repairs may have a lot of other problems down the line, and the door not closing properly could point to stuctural damage that wasn't properly fixed and might get worse over time or even reduce the structural integrity of the car in the event of another accident. And don't many automakers after a warranty longer than 40K miles these days, at least on the powertrain? It would have to be a really incredible deal to get me to look at that car any more; $1500 under blue book doesn't sound even close.
posted by TedW at 6:11 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Slamming on the brakes can cause the anti-lock braking system to make the pedal shudder, and it makes some interesting, slightly scary, sounds. This is from my never wrecked, bought brand new off the lot pickup. If the rotors are warped they are warped all the time, you would feel a pulsing pedal whenever you used the brakes.

The way cars are made now - monocoque construction, no frame, it's pretty easy to bend the whole car slightly, and very hard to straighten that back out. This might explain the door. Or, maybe the door got hit and not properly straightened out.

I am not saying buy or don't buy the car, but I will say you should probably value the opinion of a trusted mechanic that has *actually examined the car* over a bunch of folks that have not.
posted by rudd135 at 6:23 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Having been in an accident is no reason to dismiss a car out-of-hand, especially if it means you can save a few bucks on it, and if you don't care about future resale value. However, the situation you're describing with the door would give me cause for concern. If the door doesn't fit right, it could mean a host of problems down the road, issues that won't surface for a while and that you may never be able to completely fix without spending a fortune. Doors not fitting right could mean water getting into places it's not supposed to, and rust forming in places where it will be difficult and expensive to deal with. You don't want to buy this car only to find that it leaks like a sieve in heavy rain or whenever you take it through the car wash.

That said, if you like it, why not take it to be checked out at a body shop? They would know better than anyone whether the door is a serious problem. They also need to verify that the frame wasn't bent--this is absolutely crucial.

The rotors are no problem at all. This is a common repair/maintenance issue. Honestly, I think $500 is a bit high; I don't know where you are, but new rotors and front brakes run about $350 in NYC, which tends to be more expensive than other places.
posted by Leatherstocking at 6:47 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Just me, but there are enough red flags in this situation (rental car, accident damage even though dealer claims not to know about it, weird brake noises) that I personally would walk away from this.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:39 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


An accident doesn't sound like a deal killer. However, $500 for rotors? Excepting some weird cars, most basic brake jobs - which includes replacing the rotors AND pads, AND cleaning up the sliding surfaces - are in the neighborhood of 250-300 per axle. So that sounds a little high.

I had a mechanic, long ago, that looked at a couple cars I was interested in, and now that I look back, I realize he was overstating the price on just about everything.
posted by notsnot at 8:01 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just checked a receipt from my mechanic who replaced my warped front rotors/brakes on my Civic a few months ago: $150.
posted by oxisos at 9:14 PM on October 29, 2014


Also, be aware that a powertrain warranty is much more limited than a bumper-to-bumper warranty. A powertrain warranty basically covers the engine and transmission and nothing more--even some things that are vital to keeping the engine running. So if your alternator goes out, for example, your car is not going to run for very long, and it will need to be replaced at a cost of several hundred dollars. But it won't be covered by the powertrain warranty because it's part of the electrical system. These kinds of warranties often look good on paper, but don't end up being worth a whole lot in the end. I wouldn't put much stock in the warranty, especially since you already have reasons not to trust the dealer, who will probably try to nickel-and-dime you and weasel out of any repairs that you try to have done under the warranty.

Then again, your mechanic seems OK with the car, and if you trust his opinion, maybe this is worth taking a chance on at the price.

If you're still considering this car, make sure to get a Carfax as well as the Autocheck report. Neither one is perfect by any means, but Carfax will sometimes have info that Autocheck doesn't, and vice-versa.
posted by Leatherstocking at 4:12 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


The dealer denies that there was an accident (but admits it's possible a renter damaged it and had it fixed).

This, right here, would have me walking away from both this dealer and this particular car --- because really? He expects you to believe that a renter got in an accident, had the car poorly fixed (that not-quite-shutting door), and nobody ever noticed?!? I'm sorry, but as nitpicking as rental companies are that sounds extremely unlikely. Or to be more blunt: I have to assume the dealer just lied about that, so what else might he lie about?

And that's not even considering the wonky brakes.... walk away from this one, please.
posted by easily confused at 5:45 AM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


He expects you to believe that a renter got in an accident, had the car poorly fixed (that not-quite-shutting door), and nobody ever noticed?!? I'm sorry, but as nitpicking as rental companies are that sounds extremely unlikely.

Anecdotal evidence - rental places are approximately 400% less nitpicking than they used to be, it seems to me. Obviously an exaggeration, but I rent cars probably every third week from airports across the US and have watched the check in/out process hundreds of times over (and used to do summer work at a car rental place). It is much MUCH more of a conveyor belt thing than it used to be.

Although consider this - if the damage doesn't show up on a Carfax report then it is not official and that is reasonable to assume the rental company didn't know about it and so that information is not readily available to the dealer who, likely, didn't inspect the car as closely as the OP's mechanic did. Clean title, looks straight? The dealer can be confident he will shift the car off his lot, so he may not have inspected as vigorously as a private buyer would require.

most basic brake jobs - ...are in the neighborhood of 250-300 per axle.
So I can see the mechanic saying "Worst case it will be a $500 job to fix that" in case both axles show an issue so worrying about the quoted price without the full story is perhaps a distraction.

If the rotors are warped they are warped all the time, you would feel a pulsing pedal whenever you used the brakes.

Point of reference - brake rotors do not actually 'warp' in the widely understood sense; this is urban myth perpetuated by repetition. It is very, very hard to get cast iron to warp through heat alone in a braking system. So they do not necessarily pulse the whole time because the disc remains true. The 'warp' is actually inconsistent build up of brake pad material on the disc surface through smearing of the pad material onto the disc (normally from very hard applications of the brakes on a cold pad that causes the top surface to smear before the whole pad warms up). So you can find that in the early stages of this self-worsening condition that when the discs get warm the areas of extra pad material gets a bit 'grabby' against the pad. So you get this pulsing initially just when the pads/discs get warm (so at the end of a heavy brake). Over time it will get worse and pulse all the time as you describe.
posted by Brockles at 6:36 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Where are you finding these dogs?

If the guy is flat out lying to you, and it sounds like he is, don't do business with him. I'd be concerned about frame damage with a door that isn't quite closing correctly. Also, 40,000 in milage on a 2 year old car...not so hot, and the car should be a LOT less expensive than its contemporaries with lower milage, not just $1,000.

I've bought used cars from a rental company (Enterprise) and I had a great experience with them. Just don't buy the ones that were rode hard and hung up wet.

Keep looking.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:51 AM on October 30, 2014


Response by poster: I checked the carfax and the auto check - nothing comes up.

However, I also checked the NADA and it doesn't seem to be as good a deal as I thought. Although it's about a thousand under KBB, it's 300 over NADA even with the 500 discount they gave me. With all these reservations, I told them I would buy it for 1000 less than they are currently pricing it.. Waiting to hear their counter offer.

There seems to be a consensus that this brake thing probably isn't anything to lose sleep over?

I'm still conflicted - not my ideal purchasing scenario but also I'm pretty tired of spending money on a rental..
posted by Gray Skies at 1:15 PM on October 30, 2014


The braking thing isn't , but I very firmly believe the bodywork issue to be *is* something to lose sleep over. Doors are not that hard to hang and adjust so if one isn't working very well that says frame damage to me.

It's... too many red flags for me. But you seem pretty determined to buy it, to be honest.
posted by Brockles at 1:22 PM on October 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: The mechanic didn't mention frame damage. I asked about that. Not determined to buy it .. Just tired. I've been car shopping for a month, visiting countless dealers. It's awful. The search may have to go on, but it's soul crushing and time consuming.
posted by Gray Skies at 1:31 PM on October 30, 2014


Best answer: It's going to be hard for him to be sure there is no frame damage without putting it on some kind of jog, though. A general inspection may not make it obvious. But with the extra info on cost it sounds like they're advertising the car for pretty normal money, and it has issues that are readily apparent.

And yes, car buying sucks. It took 6 weeks to find my last car and about 4 1/2 to find my wife's car and I don't need to have a mechanic inspect it (and the inherent delay). It's... time consuming.

Look, you may be perfectly fine with this car - the door may turn out to be just badly adjusted, be 20 minutes to fix it and a couple of discs and $300 and you're free and clear and it runs for ever. It's impossible to know, but there is enough red flags that I, personally, would walk away. I think you did the right thing in that if you aren't completely sold on it (but would be happy with the car, problems and all), offer the dealer chump change/low ball. The greatest negotiating power comes from being genuinely ok with walking away.
posted by Brockles at 1:42 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


without putting it on some kind of jog

That is, of course, supposed to read 'jig'. NOT jog. Sheesh.
posted by Brockles at 3:20 PM on October 30, 2014


Please, PLEASE do not buy this car without taking it to a body shop or someone else who's qualified to determine whether the frame is bent. If it is, this car will never be right, and you're not getting it anywhere close to cheap enough to put up with the hassles it's going to bring you. If you had so little money to spend that you had no choice but to roll the dice on the bottom-feeders of the used car world, that would be one thing, but you have enough money to get something good and reliable. Don't blow it on something that's going to bring you one headache after another.
posted by Leatherstocking at 7:25 PM on October 30, 2014


Response by poster: I offered a low-ball figure I could live with. They came back with a figure 400 over my number. I walked. Thank you so much for your collective help.. To be continued..
posted by Gray Skies at 5:58 AM on October 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


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