Viewers take Call Christina wrecked car challenge

How to spot a wrecked car before you buy one

MIAMI – Would you be able to spot the signs of car repair work? The Call Christina team put several viewers to the test.

On a sunny afternoon at Miami's Shell Lumber and Hardware, drivers were invited to inspect three cars. Of the three, just one had been in an accident.

"We are going to see if people can tell a book by its cover," said Chris Basso of CARFAX, "When people are shopping for a used car a lot of them tend to fall in love with it. They shop with their heart and not with their head, and when you do that you can fall victim to buying a rebuilt wreck or a car that has major problems, and a potential safety hazard, that you have no idea about."

"Everybody has the right to know what kind of car they are getting," said West Kendall Toyota Body Shop Director Henry Lischner.

The 'Call Christina' team watched as drivers inspected the cars. One man started the engine, another checked the interior.

Chris Hillbauer of Miami took the task seriously. He really studied the exterior and looked at the paneling. While he did have a suspicion about one of the cars, he ended his review by shaking his head and stating, "I have no idea."


Lischner said it's all in the details. In the car that had been in an accident, Lischner spotted how the fender liners had not been property repaired.

"It's all loose," he said. "The clips are hanging out, you still have some of the hoses hanging here, so obviously this car hasn't been assembled properly."

When you are looking at a used car, he recommends doing the following:


In this case, he spotted a windshield fluid reservoir that was stuck underneath the frame. That is a clear sign, he said, that the car was in an accident, because that part had yet to be straightened out.

He also noted a weld in the car's frame that was rusted. He said that was telltale sign of shoddy repair work.

"So right now, that can cause the part to fail in an accident," Lischner said.


Lischner recommends actually running your hand over the car to check for overspray,

"This is what we call overspray," he said as he glided his hand along the front of the car. "It is basically when a car has been refinished, it hasn't been covered properly and there is some excess paint on the outside. If you hear that, it sounds almost like sandpaper. It is not a smooth finish."

In this case, the car also had what Lischner called "trash" or sand spots inside the paint.

"That's a clear indication the car has been painted."


In this case, he noted that several parts from the battery, the hood, the fender and the screws bolting down the head lamp were after-market parts.

He said that tells him the car had been involved in a front-end crash.

"As a consumer, I would like to know if the vehicle has been in an accident," Lischner said. "So either have a trained professional go with you or go through CARFAX so you know what you are buying."

"The vital thing to know is that some used cars do have inherent problems," Basso said.

Hillbauer said the 'Call Christina' wrecked car challenge taught him to look in more detail.

"I wasn't looking in the right areas."


"It's to know exactly what you are purchasing," Lischner said. "I think, wouldn't you like to know if you are buying damaged goods? And if they are buying damaged goods, obviously there will be a price to pay for that particular unit. You don't want to pay full retail. And also, if you ever do resell the car, you will take a lesser value on the vehicle because the car has been hit. If someone runs a CARFAX on it and you don't do your homework, yes, you will be paying the difference in the end."


"Used car sales are about triple what new cars are," Basso said. "A lot of people are out shopping for used cars and it is really buyer beware. It is up to you to figure out what you are buying before you lay down your hard earned money."

He said know what you are buying and who you are buying from.

  • RESEARCH THE DEALER: "You are want to make sure you are buying from someone reputable that's going to tell you about any problems with the car ahead of time," explained Basso.
  • TEST DRIVE: Take the car through a thorough test drive on city streets and the highway
  • VEHICLE HISTORY REPORT: Get a vehicle history report, such as a CARFAX report, and look for any information that may raise a red flag.
  • MECAHNIC'S INSPECTION: Have a mechanic inspect the car because their trained eye could spot problems that are not as obvious to the average consumer. "In my opinion, there is really nothing better than hiring an independent mechanic or motor vehicle inspector to go and actually take a physical look at the car," said consumer protection attorney Dana Manner. "(It's) saving you from investing a lot of money in a car that may be practically worthless," he said.
  • TITLE SEARCH: (VIDEO) Attorney Dana Manner: Requesting title search, identifying red flags
  • CHECK FOR OPEN RECALLS: You can also run the car's vehicle identification number to check for open recalls. There's no law prohibiting car dealers from selling recalled used cars to consumers. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is looking to change that. He wants dealerships to be required to fix a recall on a used car just as they are required to do for new car purchases. Nelson has tried to make this happen before but the legislative amendment was defeated earlier this year. "We know that there was more than 300,000 used cars bought and sold here in Florida with an unfixed recall last year," explained Basso. 

    Click here for a vehicle information check.

    Florida DHSMV: Title History

    Florida DHSMV: Check dealer complaint history

    BBB Southeast Florida & The Caribbean: Check dealer complaint history

    FTC: Buying a used car

    How to protect yourself: Buying a used car

    Click here for AG's Office Link to Lemon Law.

    Click here for the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Complaint Form.