Cars with rebuilt titles can be worth thousands of dollars less than those with clean titles, and offer buyers attractive potential savings. But on the down side, there are also risks to taking this option, mainly involving safety.
A vehicle typically ends up with a rebuilt title following a significant accident or flood that meant it was deemed a total loss by the insurance company, after which it was sold for repair or parts with a salvage title, rebuilt, and given its new certificate.
Buying up these cars for repair and resale is common, but that’s not necessarily reassuring. Some rebuilders may try to cut costs to maximize a profit. And even if their intention is to do the best job possible, it’s hard to know whether the vehicle is now mechanically sound, says Consumer Reports.
Here’s something else to bear in mind when buying a used car: its title status may not be clear and could even be concealed. State laws differ on how a consumer should be informed about the title, so some in the business of rebuilding cars may move vehicles between states in order to resell them without titles that are branded.
20 telltale signs a car has been rebuilt
Look out for these telltale signs, provided by Consumer Reports, to help identify a rebuilt vehicle:
- Paint that chips off or doesn’t match indicates damage repair and poor blending.
- Paint overspray on chrome, trim, or rubber seals around body openings reveals that the adjacent panel was repaired.
- Misaligned fenders suggest a poor repair job or use of non-original equipment manufacturer (non-OEM) parts.
- CAPA (Certified Automotive Parts Association) sticker on any part may indicate collision repair.
- Uneven tread wear reveals wheel misalignment, possibly because of frame damage.
- Mold or air freshener cover-up suggests water damage from a leak or flood.
- Silt in trunk may mean flood damage.
- Fresh undercoating on wheel wells, chassis, or engine strongly suggests recent structural repairs covered up.
- Door that doesn’t close correctly could point to a door-frame deformation and poor repair.
- Hood or trunk that doesn’t close squarely may indicate twisting from side impact.
- Dashboard lights, power windows, and other electronics with intermittent problems could be a sign of flood damage.
- Dashboard airbag indicator that doesn’t light up could mean the airbag was replaced improperly – or wasn’t replaced at all – after an accident.
- Big dents, kinks in structural components, or crimped or crunched fuel lines and pipes underneath are the easiest problems to find because rebuilders assume you won’t be looking there.
- Uneven surfaces on frame components could be filler, seam sealer, or welding beads.
- Damaged/gouged nuts and metal on top surface of strut tower (which connects the front wheels to the frame) in engine compartment may mean the frame was realigned.
- New metal on only one part of the hood apron shows section repair rather than replacement of the entire apron piece.
- Welding bead anywhere on heavy frame members underneath the engine suggests frame-rail sectioning or sloppy repair of a cutout made in the rail to perform repair work.
- Inconsistent welds around hood apron, door, door frame, or trunk exemplify a non-factory weld.
- Frayed safety belts or belt fibers that have melted together because of friction indicate a previous frontal impact above 15 mph.
- Missing car emblem or name on trunk may mean a non-OEM part was used.
3 more important things to check
There are a few important things that will help you make a good decision when shopping for a used vehicle in general. Getting a vehicle history report of the car you’re interested will enable you to see any previous accidents and repairs, title status and more. Look for the buyer’s guide, too, which used-car dealers are obliged to display on a vehicle, including its warranty details. You may also want to get a vehicle inspection by a trained mechanic, especially if the car has no warranty.
Buy a high-quality car with confidence
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