Buying a used car with front end damage

My sister, a broke recent college grad who’s about to start her first teaching job, is looking at buying a 2001 Subaru for her first car. I’m trying to help her out with this purchase so she doesn’t end up with a bum deal.

The seller passed along the Carfax which is clean, and the title is also clear. The owner’s done a lot of the recent 100k maintenance (head gasket, timing belt, water pump, new tires, etc).

However, it was in an accident not too long ago. Attached is the “before” picture. The “after” pictures in the ad look good. Is there any reason for worry based on the picture below? It’s not a salvage title, and when we go to check out the car later this week I can take a better look to see if there’s anything obviously wrong.

This is her first car, so I want her to have something relatively safe and reliable.

Getting all that straightened out would cost alot. I’m guessing at least $3500.

Sorry, I should clarify that the work has already been done - the buyer’s just showing what it looked like before he got it fixed.

Does she have to have awd? Subarus are more expensive to maintain than a fwd car, which is what I’d prefer for her.

What’s the asking price on the Subaru?

He’s asking $6500, and she’ll be living in Denver and hoping to go to the mountains a bit, hence the AWD Subaru.

I think your sister should take a pass on this one. I have no idea what hidden damage there might be, but why take a chance?

In my humble opinion that kind of damage would have totaled the car out or close to it. It wouldn’t have a salvage title unless the insurance company bought it, but that doesn’t mean that its not a salvaged car. I would bet it would have lifetime alignment problems and possible transfer case or transmission problems. I don’t think this is a good car to buy and I’m not a Subi fan anyway.

If used cars were a very rare commodity, I might be able to rationalize somebody buying damaged goods such as this.

However, in a marketplace where decent used cars exist in a reasonable quantity, I don’t understand why somebody would even consider a car like this. This is tantamount to somebody visiting a house of ill repute and wanting to know if the women in that establishment were suitable candidates for marriage.

Nice of the seller to be honest, but trouble seems to follow accident damaged cars. Could you see if there was frame straightening, other than the front member? if so definitely pass.

Structurally speaking, the damage doesn’t look that bad to me. The price seems high considering the fact that is has been hit though.

If this deal proceeds there should be a request for receipts or repair orders to back up the timing belt claim and the head gasket claim. I note the singular “gasket” is used and properly done, both head gaskets should be replaced at the same time. However, that missing “s” may be just a matter of semantics on my part.
If paperwork is not provided then take any claims with a grain of salt.


I’ve personally fixed that kind of damage, and the cars didn’t have any frame damage afterwards and didn’t pull or wear tires.

The radiator core support often takes the hit, saving the rest of the frame from damage.

Please post the “after” pictures

Was the timing belt tensioner and idler replaced?

Were the crank- and cam seals replaced?

Do you have any receipts from the shop that performed the work?

Word of mouth is nice, but ultimately worthless.

Another bit of advice. Run your own Carfax. The seller could be showing you an old carfax which is “clean” And then you buy the car and the title is “salvage”

Wouldn’t want that to happen to you.

I dunno, it might be fine but who needs it? The fact that the bumper, fenders, and hood have been removed means that they were damaged so it was a major hit to the center. Was the condenser and radiator replaced? The radiator support replaced or straightened? Air bags replaced or just the covers put back in place? What else was bent underneath? Where is the body shop estimate or invoice showing what was done?

This is a woman just out of school who needs a good dependable trouble free car without a lot of issues. She probably could and should buy new instead but certainly should be looking at something newer than an 01 with a good history.

Like I said who needs it? Same thing for that post where the guy takes flood cars and replaces everything on them.

A head gasket is not part of any scheduled maintenance.The fact that only one head gasket was done means the car overheated and only one head was removed so the other head wasn’t even checked so I am guessing the head that was removed wasn’t checked either. Just a new gasket put in and hope it gets sold before it overheats again.

Please note that Carfax only knows what is REPORTED to the police and/or acted upon by an insurance company. See:

That said, the damage does not appear to be that severe.The lower radiator core support was damaged, as was everything in front of it. I’m sure the radiator and condenser were replaced. It’s mostly all “bolt on” stuff. IF all that engine work was done, and done properly, I would not be too afraid of a 100K mile Subaru. As has been said, ask to see receipts.

After blowing the thumbnail up to normal size, I see that the fenders were not removed to inspect for hidden damage, or replacement. .

Another question is WHEN did the damage happen? If it was when the car was very new, I’m not surprised it was not totaled. If it was after the car was 6-7 years old, I’m surprised it was not considered a “total”, unless of course the owner did not have insurance that would cover fixing it.

I’m told by one of my friends who lives in Colorado that Subaru is the most registered NEW car in his state. I seldom see three in a week here, but when sitting in a restaurant in Woodland Park CO a couple of summers ago, I saw that many every minute. She will be in good company out there. AWD will be very nice in the snow, although she has to remember that she can’t STOP any better than anyone else.

Check out to see if the price is reasonable, especially considering the damage.

Thanks, everyone, I appreciate the advice. I think that as most of you said, it’s not worth the risk. Talking to my sister, the seller seems a little too eager to get rid of the car, it smells a little fishy, and it’s not like there aren’t plenty of other $6000ish Subarus available in Denver, so we’ll pass.

Indeed, there are plenty of Subarus around here (I’ve got a 2009 Forester, my second Subaru). They do great in the snow, run forever if you do the regular maintenance IME, and are pretty safe. My sister won’t be making much so a new car isn’t in the plans right now, and she needs to be able to get to school on time each day.

A family that works together… has more than one car between them. Man, that’s not going to make the top ten best metaphors list but I’m happy to see family members helping out.

Whenever I suggest that it can happen, people act like it’s not an option. I’m sure they have their reasons.

Back to the question. When the new plastic outweighs the new metal, there wasn’t enough damage to worry about. Now there’s a saying that we can all rally around. Give me liberty or give me a Starbuck’s gift card just didn’t sound right 50 years ago. When was the revolution anyway?

My general rule is to never recommend buying a car if there is an S anywhere in the name. Saturn, Subaru and Saab come to mind and don’t forget Oldsmobile. I’m not talking classic cars here either like the Delmont 88 or the never forgotten Saab ahh, what model was that?

If there will be snow involved, maybe consider that Subaru if the airbags didn’t deploy or the body shop replaced them with new ones instead of the stolen variety. Test drive it to Auto Zone and have them read the codes. If there are any or any monitors are in not ready status, don’t even think of buying it.

She should consider getting a good set of winter tires on rims. Tires mak e a huge difference in the ice and snow, more than awd.