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My car was rear-ended, causing a small crack to the rear bumper. The repair was about $5,000 and now my car looks brand new. But when I try to sell it (I'll sell privately because I'll get more than if I tried to trade it in at a dealer), what will the vehicle history report show? Will it show that $5,000 claim? And does this mean I'm pretty much stuck losing that money when I sell it, realistically? – Cole, Edmonton

When you're selling a car that's been in a crash, it's easy to feel like you're on the losing side of history.

But a record of the damage doesn't necessarily mean you'll take a hit for that full amount when it's time to sell.

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"I had a Tahoe that I scraped on a parking pillar and had an $1,800 damage claim to repaint the two doors," said Joe Varkey, vice-president of marketing for Carproof. "If I went to a dealership or a reputable body shop and had it fixed, those doors are as good as new – by no means does it reduce the value of my vehicle by $1,800."

So what does a vehicle history report from Carproof or Carfax – which have been owned by the same U.S. company since 2015 – actually show? It depends on what they can find.

"To the extent we have this information available, we'd report the date of the incident, the cost estimated and/or paid for the repairs and other costs, the city and province of the incident, and some details of the nature of the damage/incident," Varkey said.

So, your $51.95 Carproof report might show that $5,000 claim. Or it might just show the original estimate from the repair shop – which could be higher or lower than the actual cost to fix.

If there's structural damage, the report should show it – but it might not, said George Iny, director of the Automobile Protection Association (APA).

"The reports do indicate when damage is structural, but the information is not always reliable and moderate structural damage is sometimes missed," Iny said.

Missing history?

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Services such as Carproof aren't foolproof, Iny said. "The most likely mistakes we see are the wrong point of impact – left rear, when it should be left front," Iny said "[Or] the estimate has no relationship with the damage observed. … it could be inflated compared to the actual damage."

In an investigation four years ago, the APA found that Carproof was more accurate than Carfax. Carproof showed about 75 per cent of actual repaired damage in Ontario and 90 per cent in British Columbia, where it included data from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. But both missed claims, Iny said.

"We've always told people that there's differing amounts of data depending on whether it's police-reported," Varkey said. "The best way to protect yourself is Carproof plus an inspection – so if you're thinking of buying, take it to a trusted mechanic to tell you how well it was repaired."

What's your deal?

Even if damage from a fender-bender is fixed perfectly, somebody considering buying you car might see the crash as a way to get a better deal.

That loss in your car's worth is called diminished value and while insurance companies in some American states cover it, insurance companies in Canada aren't required to.

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There are diminished-value calculators available – often for a cost – online, which say they show what a U.S. insurance company might pay out. If there's no structural damage to the car and it's just a panel replacement, then it could be zero.

So what does any of this have to do with what you can get for your car if you sell it on Kijiji?

Probably not much. Negotiating a selling price depends on convincing the buyer that the car's in top shape – and that the damage really was minor.

The price is right?

That's what car dealers do. And they're good at it.

"You can go buy a used car at the dealer and they will say, 'Yes, there's this claim but here's the work order and you can see that there's no structural damage,'" auto appraiser Maurice Bramhall said. "And then they will sell it for a fairly normal price."

So, when you're selling it yourself, show the buyer the paperwork from the body shop – if you have it. Even better? Let them see themselves that it really was just a crack in the plastic.

"The best is to show the buyer photos of the damage before it was repaired," Iny said. "So their imagination doesn't run wild."

So, how much of a hit will you have to take?

"It varies case by case – back to my example, $1,800 on a Tahoe means a totally different thing than $1,800 on a BMW," Varkey said. "If I'm selling you my Tahoe for $20,000, you may say, 'It looks like it was painted well, but I think you should sell it to me for $19,000.'"

Providing the buyer with the report and encouraging them to get an inspection, shows that you're not hiding anything, Varkey said. That goodwill could help in the negotiations, he said.

"You couldn't be more transparent," Varkey said.

Disclose for comfort?

So if the buyer doesn't ask for a history report or ask about accidents, do you have to tell?

In Alberta, the Fair Trading Act says dealers can't misrepresent a car's history – so if there's been an insurance claim on it, they have to tell you before you sign the contract. But that law doesn't apply to private sales.

"Private sales are not regulated," said Cathy Housdorrf, spokeswoman for the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry, the province's motor vehicle regulator. "But if a dispute happens, it will be a matter for the civil courts."

As a private seller, you're not required to volunteer that your car's been damaged in a crash, Iny said.

"However, if asked by the seller, they must answer truthfully or they would be liable for the consequences," he said. "In practice, [that's] difficult to do."

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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