- Before you begin your inspection of the car, throw a piece of newspaper under the engine bay and in the area between the passenger seat and driver seat. Preferably, you want to do this while the car is still hot. If the car is RWD, put it in the middle between the rear tires.
- Do a quick check over the entire car. Check every body panel, especially the front fenders. Underneath the hood, on the fenders, there should be a sticker with the VIN number. Same with the trunk, doors, etc. If they don’t have a sticker, that means it has either been repainted or replaced, likely indicating it was in an accident. If there are no accidents on a carfax report, that means they got it repaired via cash and can indicate they’re trying to pull a fast one. No matter what they say, those VIN stickers are on every single body part from the factory. If they tell you otherwise, they’re lying to you and that should be a warning flag. Note, please don’t accuse the seller of lying until you have checked every inch of the body part for those stickers (or you google before hand where they’re supposed to be).
- Another test you can do here. Make sure the car is in bright sunlight and clean. The finish of factory paint is a mirror finish. You should be able to shave in your reflection on the paint. The paint should also be consistent all the way through, as in even though there are break lines for things like the doors, the fenders, the trunk, etc. Meaning if you look at the car head on with your face split on the door and the fender, you should see your face perfectly, with a line going down the middle. If you notice a panel is mustier, muddied, etc, that’s an aftermarket paint job. Factory paint is durable because after it’s painted, the whole car is put in a car sized oven that tempers the paint. Mostly paint shops don’t do this.
- Go to the driver side door jam, and you should see a full sized vin sticker there (it’s like 2″ wide and 4-5″ long). Should have VIN, make, model, year, production year, etc. Run your finger along this. If it’s higher than the paint job, it’s factory. If it’s lower (as in you run your finger from the body of the car to the sticker and your finger drops) or perfectly smooth, it’s aftermarket. You can also check in the engine bay, particularly at the firewall, down by where the engine meets the transmission. Unless they removed the engine entirely to do the paint job (not commonly done), there will be places most aftermarket shops can’t/won’t reach. You also want to look for bumps in the paint. This is over-spray, and another indicator of aftermarket paint jobs.
- While you’re checking around the firewall, if you have one handy, run a black light over the firewall next to the VIN#. If you see any fluorescence around the VIN number, the VIN has been swapped and welded in, meaning the car you’re looking at is probably stolen and you should leave quickly. Note, this is incredibly rare, and isn’t on my normal list of things to check, but if enough things are starting to not add up, this is another test I will do.
Also, some used car dealers like Car buyers in Arizona, purchase old vehicles outright no matter what the condition as long as they can buy it cheaply enough to be able to take it to a dealer wholesale auction and make a small profit on it.