Does A Car Dealership Have To Disclose An Accident

Does A Car Dealership Have To Disclose An Accident

When buying a used car, one of the biggest concerns is whether the vehicle has been in an accident. Accidents can cause lasting damage, potentially making the car unsafe and affecting its value. This leads many car shoppers to ask: Does a dealership have to tell you if a used car has been in a crash?

The answer isn’t straightforward. Certain types of accidents and damage do require disclosure, but dealerships aren’t obligated to reveal every fender bender or minor scrape. It depends on state laws and the severity of the incident.

To help you make an informed purchase, here’s an in-depth look at accident disclosure requirements for car dealers.

Key Takeaways:

  • Federal law doesn’t require dealerships to disclose most accidents, only if damage exceeds disclosure thresholds
  • State lemon laws create accident disclosure rules dealers must follow when selling used cars
  • Dealers must disclose title branding like salvage or rebuilt titles that indicate major prior damage
  • Minor accidents with no structural or safety impact don’t have to be disclosed in most states
  • It’s smart to get a vehicle history report and professional inspection to uncover any accidents

What is Disclosed Under Federal Law?

The primary federal regulation governing dealer sales is the Used Motor Vehicle Trade Regulation Rule from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This rule establishes required disclosures by car dealers, including accident history under certain circumstances.

The FTC Used Car Rule mandates dealers must display a Buyers Guide on all used vehicles offered for sale. This guide discloses whether the vehicle comes with a warranty and provides details on major mechanical and safety issues.

For accidents, the Buyers Guide requires dealers to check a box if the vehicle was damaged such that the cost of repairs exceeded 25% of the car’s fair market value before it became damaged.

For example, if a car with a fair trade-in value of $10,000 sustained over $2,500 in crash damage, the accident would meet the disclosure threshold. Even if repairs were completed, it must be disclosed.

The 25% damage disclosure applies even if the title remains clean and wasn’t branded as salvage. However, the rule only requires a simple “Yes” checkbox to indicate major prior damage over the threshold, with no details on the accident provided.

What Is Disclosed Under Federal Law?
What is Disclosed Under Federal Law?

State Lemon Laws and Accident Disclosures

Since the FTC Used Car Rule sets minimal disclosure standards, individual state laws can expand accident disclosure requirements for dealers.

Most states have some version of a “lemon law” to protect consumers buying defective used vehicles. These laws often incorporate accident history and damage into the definition of a lemon.

For example, under the California Used Car Lemon Law, dealers must disclose specific details about any accident where damage exceeded $500 in parts and labor costs. This is a much lower threshold compared to the federal 25% standard.

States like Wisconsin go even further, requiring disclosure of any accident that resulted in title branding or required substantial repairs costing at least 3% of the car’s value.

These stricter state lemon laws mean dealers must reveal accident histories they could legally conceal under the federal rule. Always check your state statutes to understand required disclosures from dealers in your area.

State Lemon Laws And Accident Disclosures
State Lemon Laws and Accident Disclosures

Title Branding and Major Accident Disclosure

Certain types of major accidents must be disclosed no matter what state you live in. This includes events so severe the vehicle’s title gets branded as:

  • Salvage: Deemed a total loss by an insurer, which paid out a claim on the vehicle. This typically happens when repair costs exceed around 75% of the car’s value.
  • Rebuilt: The vehicle had a salvage title but was repaired and inspected to be road legal again.
  • Flood damage: Flooded by fresh or saltwater over floorboard level.
  • Lemon: Branded as defective under state lemon laws.

Dealers cannot sell a vehicle without disclosing these branded titles upfront. The title documents will be marked when you go to transfer ownership, revealing the car’s history.

Minor Accidents and Damage

What about fender benders? Light bumper scratches? Small dents and dings?

In most states, dealerships don’t have to disclose minor cosmetic damage or accidents under a certain dollar amount defined in law. For example, common state thresholds for disclosure are:

  • $1,000 in Georgia
  • $2,500 in California
  • $3,000 in Indiana

That $500 parking lot scrape wouldn’t make the cut. However, unscrupulous dealers may try to cover up more significant damage right below state thresholds to avoid disclosure. This is why a thorough inspection by a mechanic is recommended.

Minor Accidents And Damage
Minor Accidents and Damage

Too Good to Be True? Trust Your Instincts

If an ultra-clean car is being sold for an unusually low price compared to similar models, it’s wise to be skeptical. This could be a red flag for prior accident damage the dealer isn’t revealing.

Likewise, if panels have slightly mismatched paint color or fittings, ripples in metal, or overspray, the vehicle may have had body work after a crash. These visual cues don’t prove an accident but warrant closer attention.

When test driving the car, pay attention to how it handles corners and bumps. Pedals, wheels or seats that are off-center can hint at an underlying frame issue. Bring along a mechanic to spot any work that’s not original.

How to Uncover Hidden Accident Histories

Since accident disclosure laws give dealers loopholes like dollar thresholds and title branding technicalities, you can’t rely on their word alone. Here are smart steps to dig into the true history of a used car:

Run a Vehicle History Report
Services like Carfax and AutoCheck provide detailed records of reported accidents tied to a vehicle’s VIN number. This can reveal mishaps a dealer might not. But these reports aren’t foolproof either, as they rely on voluntary reports from insurers, repair shops and police. Unreported accidents still happen.

Get a Professional Pre-Purchase Inspection\
A trusted mechanic can put a car on a lift and examine it for collision repairs and frame damage that may not be obvious. They can also test for mechanical issues that could stem from accident repairs. This several hundred dollar investment gives peace of mind.

Ask to See Repair Records
Request to look at invoices or photos from any past accident repairs the dealer mentions. Make sure it wasn’t more significant damage swept under the rug.

Test Drive Extensively
Take the car on highways, side streets, hills and bumpy roads. Listen and feel for anything unusual that could point to underlying issues.

Talk to Previous Owners
The dealer may let you contact prior owners to ask about the car’s history and condition. This first-hand info can reveal useful insights.

Follow Up After Purchase
If you discover a dealership failed to disclose a known accident after purchase, report them to your state Attorney General and Consumer Protection office, FTC or NHTSA. You may have legal recourse depending on state laws.

Ask the Right Questions
To uncover what the dealer knows about any past accidents, here are some direct questions to ask:

  • Has this vehicle ever been in a crash of any kind? About how many accidents has it been in?
  • Did any accidents cause airbags to deploy or require the car to be towed away?
  • Has this car’s title ever been branded as salvage, rebuilt, or lemon?
  • Does this vehicle have any body panels that were repainted or replaced?
  • Why is this vehicle priced lower than similar models with the same miles?
  • Can I see repair invoices for any work done after collisions?

Being persistent pays off. If the dealer hesitates or contradicts themselves, it could point to undisclosed damage.

How To Uncover Hidden Accident Histories
How to Uncover Hidden Accident Histories

Accident Disclosure Laws by State

Each state has unique statutes on what accident details dealerships must reveal to used car buyers. Here are some examples:


  • Disclosure required for all accidents with repair costs exceeding $500
  • Salvage title vehicles cannot be sold without disclosure


  • Damage over 25% of value must be disclosed under federal law
  • Title must show “rebuilt” if vehicle was totaled, destroyed or submerged in water

New York

  • Damage exceeding $1,000 or 5% of retail value requires disclosure
  • Previous salvage title status must be revealed


  • Accidents with repair costs over $3,000 must be disclosed
  • Covers any deployed airbags even if repairs were under $3,000


  • Accidents with repair costs exceeding $5,000 must be disclosed
  • Branded salvage or watercraft titles cannot be concealed

Consult your state’s Attorney General or motor vehicle department website to learn about required accident disclosures from dealers in your specific location. This can help you make the most informed decision when shopping for your next car.

The Bottom Line on Accident Disclosure

While federal law sets a relatively high bar for requiring dealerships to reveal past accident damage, state lemon laws often beef up disclosure rules. However, minor fender benders with minimal structural impact still don’t have to be disclosed in most states.

Rather than relying solely on the dealer’s word, the best way to sniff out any past accidents is to get a

Here are some frequently asked questions about dealerships disclosing accidents, along with a conclusion:


What is the red flags rule car dealers?

The Red Flags Rule requires car dealers to implement identity theft prevention programs to detect potential signs of fraud when financing vehicle sales. Dealers must identify and respond to red flags like suspicious personal identifying information, unusual credit activity, and notices from clients, police, or consumer reporting agencies.

Does a car dealer have to tell you if a car has been in an accident in Michigan?

No, Michigan does not have a state law that explicitly requires car dealers to disclose prior damage or accidents to buyers. However, federal odometer law requires reporting major title brands like ‘salvage’, and the Federal Trade Commission’s Used Car Rule mandates dealers display a buyer’s guide on each car that notes if it was previously damaged.

What can you sue a car dealership for?

You can potentially sue a dealership for fraud if they deliberately concealed defects or prior damage, breach of warranty if they did not honor promised repairs, violation of sales agreements, deceptive advertising, financing discrimination, or failing to comply with sales regulations like posting buyer’s guides on used cars.

Does a car dealer have to disclose an accident in Indiana?

No. Indiana does not have a clear title branding law requiring dealers to label cars as ‘damaged’ or ‘salvage’ if they were in crashes. Buyers must perform their own inspections and VIN checks. Dealers may voluntarily disclose major prior damage that affected safety or value.

Do history reports satisfy a dealer’s responsibilities?

Generally yes. Providing a vehicle history report from CARFAX or similar services meets disclosure duties in most states. But dealers can’t hide known accidents.

What if undisclosed damage is found after purchase?

Legal options may include reporting the dealer to your state Attorney General for fraud, consulting an attorney, or filing complaints with the FTC and consumer groups.


In summary, auto dealerships are obligated to disclose previous accidents and collision repairs on used vehicles when required by state law. However, specifics on disclosure requirements vary greatly across states.

While major damage history legally needs revelation in most states if the dealer is aware, consumers still need to take an active role by carefully inspecting vehicles and asking detailed questions to make the most informed purchase decisions.

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