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Buying a Car? Consult with a Detailer & Identify Potential Issues


Buying a vehicle is one of the biggest purchases any of us will ever make.  Whether you are buying a new or used vehicle, it is important to understand as much of the vehicle history as possible before making the purchase.  It is always a good idea to ensure it is mechanically sound, so it is often recommended to consult a trusted mechanic if you have any concerns regarding the operation of the vehicle and you are not comfortable making the assessment yourself, but what about the paint and body?  Who do you consult with to inspect these areas prior to purchasing a vehicle?

Automotive finishes are quite delicate.  It doesn’t take much to dent, ding, or scratch a vehicle if you aren’t careful, and it is even easier to introduce swirl marks and marring.   Used vehicles will almost always require a fair amount of paint correction, and many of them have likely had repairs and body work done throughout their life that may or may not be listed on the vehicle history report.  Unfortunately the same can be said about brand new vehicles.  We work on a lot of new cars each year, and the truth is that it is not uncommon for them to require quite a bit of work to get them into “proper new car shape”, and in some cases we find panels that have already been repainted/repaired despite just being picked up off the dealership lot.

Swirl Marks

It is usually a fair assumption that any vehicle that has sat on a dealer lot for more than a couple of days has been washed or cleaned in some way, and that may be all it takes to damage the paint.  Swirl marks are a common sight on brand new cars due to the improper wash methods used by most dealerships.  One poor car wash, whether by hand or machine, is all it takes to create these fine scratches in the finish of a brand new car such as the ones seen in the following picture of a new BMW X5.


If you’re purchasing a pre-owned vehicle, the paint may have been subjected to years of improper washing and drying.  The following photo shows a vehicle that was just 2 years old with less than 7,000 miles on it, but had been maintained by frequent free dealership tunnel washes and full-service car washes where the car was driven through a tunnel wash and then wiped down at the end.  This requires some serious reconditioning, and therefore more money out of your pocket in addition to the cost of the vehicle.



Rotary holograms, also called buffer trails, can be found on new and used vehicles.  The rotary polisher is the tool of choice by most dealership detail shops and body shops.  If the vehicle has been buffed out with a rotary machine and wool pad, it is almost guaranteed that there will be holograms left over.  These unique looking defects can be removed with a proper paint correction process, so it shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it is just another potential cost to consider if you are not going to be doing the correction work on your own.

ATD | BMW 750 LI

Scratches (RIDS)

It is common for new cars to have gone through quite a journey before they arrive at your local dealership.  Transportation by truck, rail, and boat mean that many people may have been working around the vehicle, loading and unloading it as it is moved from place to place.  Once the car arrives at the dealership, it may sit on the showroom floor or out on the lot where interested individuals may touch, bump, and rub against it.  With all of that in mind, it is almost guaranteed that there will be some deeper scratches to take note of such as these marks that were found on the rear of this brand new 2017 Porsche.


Used vehicles may have a much more interesting past, and scratches are inevitable.  Whether it is from a shopping cart at the super market, kids playing around it, or even an attack by some wild turkeys (yes it can happen – see pic below of a used BMW 335i), your detailer will be able to help identify which scratches may be safely removed with paint correction and/or sanding or which ones may have penetrated the clear coat therefore requiring touch up paint or body work to properly repair.  This is where you can determine how much potential investment may be needed to repair an area.  Obviously paint correction work will be far less expensive than repainting.


Sanding Marks

Based on our experiences working with new cars, this type of defect is not too common on the majority of vehicles, however higher end cars may receive extra attention on the assembly line prior to leaving.  This may include spot sanding to reduce or remove any small dust particles or other imperfections that may have been introduced during painting.  Unfortunately this extra attention rarely receives proper compounding and polishing afterwards, leaving unsightly patches of sanding marks such as the ones shown on this brand new Dodge Challenger Hellcat.

ATD | 2016 Hellcat

Repainted/Repaired Panels

Believe it or not, it is not too uncommon for brand new cars to have had a panel repainted or repaired either before leaving the factory or before being put up for sale at a dealership.  I imagine this is due to an accident which required repair, perhaps something that happened while loading or unloading the vehicle, or while moving it around a busy dealership lot.  In every instance where I have found signs of repaint on a brand new car, it had not been disclosed to the new owner that any repair work had been done, nor was it listed on the vehicle history report.

The photo below shows fisheyes on the tailgate of a brand new Dodge Ram.  This type of defect is not commonly found in factory applied paint, and also our paint thickness gauge showed that this panel was quite a bit thicker than adjacent panels, which is another red flag.


Paint thickness gauges are quite useful in identifying past repair work as you may stumble upon an area that is 10x thicker than the rest of a panel hinting that there may be body filler in that location, however even with a paint thickness gauge in hand, there is no substitute for a trained eye.  Being able to spot differences in surface textures, color, and other minor details will help to identify potential repainted areas.

Repainted panels are not necessarily a bad thing, but that is assuming the repair was done properly.  The photos shown here are obvious signs that the repair work may not be up to our high standards, and the last thing you want to do is purchase a vehicle that may have considerable paint/body issues looming.  Don’t put all of your faith in the vehicle history report as accidents and repairs are not always recorded.  Have a trained eye carefully inspect the vehicle to ease your mind.



Another common on new and used vehicles issue is paint overspray.  This is the result of airborne paint particles landing on an adjacent body panel or vehicle while a repair is being performed.  The good news is that this is often easily remedied by either a form of detailing clay or with paint correction.


The purpose of this article was to help point out usual defects that may lead to additional costs after your purchase.  I wanted to help identify common issues to raise awareness on what can be ahead of you if you unknowingly purchase a vehicle that has been poorly cared for.  If you don’t consider yourself to be an expert at identifying signs of paint/body work or areas that will need to be addressed by a detailer, then don’t rely solely on vehicle history reports before making your purchase.  Instead, consider consulting with a trusted professional to make sure there are no red flags that could lead to expensive issues in the future.

Zach McGovern
Attention To Detailing Peoria
Peoria, IL

15 comments on Buying a Car? Consult with a Detailer & Identify Potential Issues

  1. John says:

    Good article. Are the tunnel washes you spoke of “touchless” car washes?

    • Bob says:

      I’m guessing Zach is talking about the automatic washes with brushes. This would be you classic car wash with a crew hand drying and vacuum at the end. However, I now see my local touchless carvwash “upgraded” to spinning brushes/cloth as a premium wash. You can still get a complete touchless, but the average consumer is going to think the $12 brush wash is better. Stay away from and car wash with a brush! Bubba could have just taken his weekend mud truck through:)

    • Yes – as Bob guessed, I was eluding the washes that are NOT touchless… meaning they either have spinning brush type systems and/or they have someone waiting at the end to wipe it down with cruddy towels.

      Touchless washes won’t scratch the car, but the spotless rinses aren’t always reliable so you have to be aware of water spots which can etch into the paint.

  2. Great article its summarises pretty much about all. Especially paint thickness.

  3. Bob says:

    Great article, I remember watching a Larry Kosilla video where he did a pre-purchase inspection on a Ford GT for a customer. As a kid at my dad’s dealership I remember being able to detect 95% of the cars with body work just by walking around and inspecting the differences in paint texture. Pissed my dad off when I’d point out paint work on “perfect” cars.

    Do you offer a pre-purchase inspection at your shop or home to your customers? Could really help some customers and sell a lot of paint correction and coatings too.


  4. Steve K. says:

    This is a great article Zach. Going to share it with others so they can be informed.

  5. Great article. Regarding the repainted/repaired panels, I once got to take a tour of the BMW Vehicle Distribution Center in Port Hueneme, CA. I don’t remember the amount, but there was a threshold for when they had to notify the new owner of repaired damage. The facility had a paint booth and autobody repair bays.

  6. Jim Harris says:

    Not only great article, it is just a superb article! Consult with a Detailer & Identify Potential Issues can give a better result in the end. Zach, keep up the great work and waiting for your next article. Thanks!

  7. This is awesome! Thanks for taking the time to even share mate. Look forward to more article now.

  8. emily sara says:

    thanks for rising up the common issues in the car now before buying car we can think about these things
    car service in uk

  9. David Romeo says:

    Such a very informative article so if you are interested in getting help in an auto dealership visit here.

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