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I have the option to buy a car that has been in an accident. There are alternatives, but within my budget the alternatives are usually older/have higher mileage. The seller is a local mechanic who did the restoration work and also showed pictures of the car before restoration. The damage was done to one of the front headlights and to the surrounding bits. The mechanic has convinced me that no damage was done to the internal carrying structure. He fixed the lights and did some paintwork restoration.

Problem: I read that people advice not to buy cars after the accident. This is my first car, so my experience is nonexistent.

Question: What are the cons against buying a car after the accident?

About the car: Opel Astra 2007 1.4 Petrol Manual Hatchback priced £2200, 1 prev owner, chain, 66K miles, 1 year MOT, 6 month tax

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4 Answers 4

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Typically, a car that has been in an accident should be less expensive, that's always a plus if you're on a budget. Your question might be a little too broad though, there's obviously a whole range of damage that could be caused by different accidents, and each situation is unique. An accident may have just broken some lights, or there could be hidden damage to the frame that you can't even detect with the naked eye, even if it was just a fender bender.

When you're buying a used car, whether known to be in an accident or not, it's always recommended you have it inspected first. Otherwise, there's no telling what could be wrong with it. Not having it inspected and not knowing what could be wrong is a huge risk when buying a car.

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If you don't have any mechanical experience or ability and you are not willing to learn how to fix things yourself then I would not recommend buying a write off or damaged vehicle. –  Mike Saull May 24 '13 at 17:40
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One additional thing to keep in mind is the title. In most states a car that has been totaled by the insurance can be repaired, inspected, and put back on the road. It will have a "Rebuilt" title though. Different insurance companies have different policies on rebuilt vehicles. In many states you cannot purchase full coverage and can only get the minimum necessary to operate the vehicle on the road.

The positives are that you can get something cheaply. The negative is that you really need to know what to look at and for. For a first time buyer, if they say it's got a rebuilt title, walk away.

Hillsons advice is probably the best first time buyer advice. Never hesitate to ask to have it inspected by your mechanic. If nothing else, the reaction to the question can be very telling.

Rebuilt or Salvage titles are probably going to be different outside of the US, FYI.

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For what it's worth, I bought my first car (well, first that was actually mine) shortly after college for $100 with accident damage. Started with no knowledge or experience repairing cars. Took me a few months to get it in working shape, but it served me well for 4 years, and I learned a lot from it. However, it had damage to the frame that kept me from ever getting the alignment perfect, and so it burned through tires. This is something you might want to have checked by a professional on any vehicle that's had accident damage.

Anyway, the main thing I have to add on top of what others have said is that, if you can't afford to spend a lot of money and want to buy a car with potential problems as a way to save money, you might want to go the way I did and take "accident damage" over "engine problems". Even if you have to do some work on it later yourself, replacing components that might have been damaged in an accident is a lot easier for a beginner than doing a head gasket job or full engine or transmission rebuild (those issues being the other obvious ways you could get a dirt-cheap vehicle).

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One indicator in this case could be the airbags. In a frontal accident they deploy if the impact was strong enough. So I'd consider the car if the airbags are still the originals. Too big of a chance of structural damage if the airbags deployed and were replaced. Better to steer clear…

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I would tend to disagree. In many vehicles, airbags deploy in the most ridiculous situations and have often been known to injure drivers and passengers who otherwise would have walked away from the accident with no injury. They're not a good indication of the seriousness of the accident. –  R.. May 28 '13 at 17:17
    
The question is about "What are the pitfalls of buying a used car after an accident?", not "How to detect one?" –  Krom Stern May 29 '13 at 6:51
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