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How to check for panel damage

Checking a car's bodywork need only take a few minutes

Buy a good car can mean years of troublefree driving, but buy a lemon and your life could become a nightmare.

There's no guaranteed way of ensuring that the car you buy won't have issues that will surface the moment you drive off in it, but there are things you can do to minimize the risk. One is a thorough check of the body for rust and previous panel damage.

There was a time, not so long ago, when rust was pretty easy to detect, it was usually quite visible. Today's cars are built with better steel and better rust protection than cars of old, but they can still suffer from rust.

It's usually not as readily visible as it once was, you have to lift floor coverings, peer inside the boot and under the bonnet. Particularly look for places that aren't painted in production, such as inside fuel filler flaps, along window edges, and in the engine bay.

Take particular attention if a car has come from a beachside area where sea air can play havoc with steel. As well as rust look for the telltale signs of dodgy panel repairs.

Look for mismatching paint on adjacent panels, variable panel gaps, drooping doors, ill-fitting hatches and bootlids, and overspray on components in the engine bay, boot and door openings.

Checking a car's bodywork need only take a few minutes, but it can save months or even years of future frustration.