When is a car an accident car?

Accident cars can only be sold at a significantly lower value than undamaged used cars. But when does a car actually count as an accident car? Is a little bump in the park enough for that? And what damage should a seller not conceal? Uwe Lenhart, a traffic lawyer from Frankfurt am Main, explains: “An accident vehicle is a vehicle that has been damaged in an accident.” What he means by that: There must be body damage, like in the photo above. And then the following note should be included in the sales contract: “The vehicle is an accident vehicle.” The lawyer designed ten typical cases for AUTO BILD.


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1. Heavy crash with my new car – can I get a replacement?

I wasn’t at fault for the accident. What am I entitled to?
Lenhart: “In the event of damage, you are treated as if the accident had not happened. So reimbursement of the repair costs or replacement of the replacement value for the car before the accident minus the residual value.”

2. Body parts such as doors are replaced because of rust – what does that mean?

Despite fully galvanizing the vehicles, many manufacturers still have a rust problem. Some even swap out doors and hoods for free. What if I sell my car with the doors replaced? Do I have to state this later when selling?
“Yes, that shouldn’t be kept secret, because it allows conclusions to be drawn about the overall condition of the vehicle.”

3. Scratches from shopping trolleys – just a trifle?

Once you weren’t careful, it happened: the shopping trolley left a deep scratch on the painted bumper. What does that mean in legal terms?
“This means that the car does not become an accident car. However, state it in the purchase contract anyway, including the invoice from the painter.”

4. Bumper dented – is that an accident car?

A small bump in the parking lot with big consequences: the bumper is scratched and is hanging crookedly on the car. Is it an accident car?
“That depends on the severity of the accident. If the bumper is easy to straighten and paint: no accident car. If a new bumper is required: accident car. In any case, state the damage when you sell it.”

Lawyer Uwe Lenhart

AUTO BILD traffic law expert Uwe Lenhart is a specialist lawyer for traffic law in Frankfurt.

5. Motor will be exchanged – do I have to state this?

Dirk L. drives a five-year-old car and gets the second engine at 120,000 km. Does he have to state this when selling?
“In any case, he should state that. A new engine may increase the value of the car. Keep invoices with exact mileage.”

6. Is there compensation in case of damage?

My car has fender damage, it wasn’t my fault. Will I be compensated?
“The body damage turns the car into an accident car. The insurance company of the other party involved in the accident pays for the depreciation according to the report.”

7. Accident concealed in the contract – what are the consequences?

The seller assures in the purchase contract: “The car had no accident damage during the time that it was my property.” In reality there was a crash.
“This is fraud, and cheated buyers can return the car because of fraudulent misrepresentation, they will then get the purchase price back. This also applies, by the way, if you bought your car privately and therefore have no warranty like with the dealer.”

8. Broken window after a crash with a deer – do I now have an accident car?

A wildlife accident is often difficult to avoid. In most cases, the car is damaged. Is my car an accident car if the window has to be replaced after a crash with a deer?
“If only the window has to be replaced, it’s not an accident car. However, if the bumper and bonnet have been damaged and replaced, the car is an accident car.”

9. Fenders filled – is that allowed for leased cars?

After a small bump in the parking lot, the fender of my leased car dented. Do I have to report that it has been filled?
“Yes, because the car becomes an accident car. Incidentally, the lessor will find out for himself at the latest upon return.”

10. New paint because of scratches – what does that mean?

My car was scratched with a key and had to be repainted on one side. What does that mean in legal terms?
“It depends on the scope. If only one spot needs to be edited: no accident car. If the entire side is painted: accident car.”

Recognize accident cars

Even laypeople can check with a certain basic technical understanding whether it is an accident car. Diagnostic systems, which are now often available with a smartphone connection, are helpful. If errors occur in the odometer reading, the cause should be clarified. Increased or irregular paint thicknesses of more than 160 microns are a clear indication that it has already been repainted and possibly also filled. OBD adapters like Carly meanwhile also support the checking of the airbag systems. If there was a trigger in the past, a major loss event can be assumed.

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