Shopping for used car quiz: Can you guess the wreck?

Ruth to the Rescue challenges viewers to spot a wreck

Published On: Jul 05 2012 10:55:14 PM EDT
Used car quiz
TROY, Mich. -

Shopping for a used car can be tricky.

You may think you know what to do: Walk around the car, check under the hood, or even get down on the ground to look under the car.
However, would that be enough to spot a car that's actually a rebuilt wreck? Ruth to the Rescue decided to put consumers to the test.

The Public Relations Manager from Carfax helped us set up the quiz at the Oakland Mall in Troy.

"We've got three cars- two of them are clean cars- no accidents look great. One of them also looks great- but underneath its been wrecked and rebuilt," said Christopher Basso, the Public Relations Manager

from Carfax.

Three used cars: Spot the wreck

Basso and the folks from the Victory Automotive Group rounded up three cars: a 2003 Saturn Vue, a 2009 Scion XB and a 2005 Honda Element. More

than 40 people took the time to kick the tires, open the hoods, and guess which one was the rebuilt wreck.

Consumer Reporter Ruth Spencer was there for some of those final answers. Ray Tyszka of Berkley thought he had it figured out. "I'm pretty

confident that the Scion is the one that's been in the accident and repaired." he told Ruth.

But, like 2/3 of the people we polled, Tyszka got it wrong.

In our car quiz, the Honda Element was the rebuilt wreck after being called a total loss back in 2007.

Rodger Olson, of the Victory Automotive Group showed Ruth to the Rescue some clues that could tip you off to a car's hidden history.

* Look for color mismatch between parts, if the color is slightly off the part might have been replaced.
* A dirty and old looking body under the hood, while other parts are fresh and clean could also be an indication of a rebuild.
* If some of the cars bolts are clean, and others are dirty it may have been rebuilt. Also look for bolts that have chipped paint where it looks like work has been done
* Look for gaps in between body parts, like spaces that shouldn't be there. The car should be perfectly aligned.
* When you look at the engine, if some parts seem older and worn, while others look brand new, they may have been replaced.
* Look for the Vehicle Identification Number on all the major part of the car. If some are missing, or they don't match, some parts have probably been replaced.

Now, you can drive a rebuilt wreck and you might never have any problems, but Olson says there is a risk if the car wasn't repaired by expert technicians.

"...the risk is.. it wasn't, and so they may have used substandard parts. They may not have put it back together to factory specifications and all those things add up to potential trouble down the road," he said.

Investigate a car's history

If something doesn't add up, you may want to go to Carfax to learn more about the car's past. Carfax gathers information on vehicles histories from 34,000 sources and has 10 billion records in its data base. Almost all dealers share Carfax information with you for free and if not you can go online to buy a car's history for less than $35.

"If a seller is not willing to show you the Carfax report, it's a red flag and you may want to go somewhere else," said Christopher Basso, of Carfax.

One final word: even if you read the Carfax report, you still might want to bring any used car to an objective mechanic to have it checked out.