Flow Racers is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

7 Ways To Tell If A Car Has Been Raced

Buying a car is an exciting experience. However, it can be a bit stressful if you’re not sure who the previous owner was. There are lots of things to consider, with the history of the car being very important. Luckily, there are some very easy ways to tell if a car has been raced in the past.

The 7 signs that a car has been raced are:

  1. Body modifications
  2. Damage to the car
  3. Brakes in poor condition
  4. Helmet marks on the headliner
  5. Badly Worn Tires
  6. Unusual driving behavior
  7. Mileage Doesn’t Add Up

Below, we will go into more detail about each of these signs, and why they are so important to look out for. Knowing each one will allow you to make smarter decisions about the cars you choose to buy in the future.

The 7 Signs That A Car Has Been Raced

1. Body Modifications

Many people who race their cars will modify the vehicle’s bodywork to accommodate larger wheels or improve airflow into the engine. These changes can usually be easily identified from a distance and include larger fender flares, open front grills, or large hood scoops.

Racers might also make more subtle interior modifications, like changing the pedals or shifter to make the car more comfortable to operate at high speeds.

Missing Pieces

You might also be able to identify things missing from a car as you look for modifications. Many racers will remove things like backseats or air conditioning units to save weight. Make sure to look under the hood before buying a car to check that everything is where it should be.

Most racing federations require that race cars have exterior tow points, so you might find a loop that pokes through the bumper or below the bumper of the car. These are usually difficult to remove because they are welded to the vehicle’s frame, and it would be a dead giveaway that the previous owner raced the car.

Roll Cages

And of course, if there’s any evidence of a roll cage in the vehicle, you can probably assume that the previous owner raced it. Roll cages can be expensive so the previous owner probably removed the cage before selling the vehicle. However, if you see it in the car, you can be sure that the car was used for some sort of racing.

2. Damage To The Car

Minor indications of wear and tear can give you a detailed history of a race car’s past. For example, take a look at the car’s wheel wells to see if there’s any damage from the wheel bottoming out in the suspension when going over bumps or diving into sharp turns. Another thing to look for is chipped paint on the calipers, which can be caused by frequent or rushed tire changes.

Check Down Low

Pay particular attention to the bottom of the car, including the lower side of any bodywork and the car’s metal frame. Like the wheel wells, you can see evidence of the car bottoming out while cornering or scraping against the road while going over an uneven surface. This evidence could show you if the previous owner was hard on his car as he raced it.

Driving a car very fast will result in consistent damage to the front fender and windshield due to road debris. It’s not unusual to see a used car with some pockmarks on the windscreen or pits in the fender.


Vehicles that have been raced will have extensive pitting from closely following behind cars or driving at such high speeds that even minor road debris causes damage. If you see extensive damage across the front of the vehicle, this is a good sign that it was once a race car.

3. Brakes In Poor Condition

Brakes are meant to stand up to a lot of abuse because they’re a critical safety feature in cars. However, racing a car puts added pressure on the brakes that results in tell-tale signs of racing. If you suspect that a previous vehicle’s owner ran it in races, make sure you ask if they can remove one of the tires so you can inspect the brakes.

Rough Or Smooth?

Generally, brakes under normal wear will be smooth and even buffed down. However, brakes in a race car will be rough or grooved because of the intense pressure through cornering and sudden stops.

Another critical thing to look for is the coloration of the brakes. Racing brakes are exposed to a lot of heat and pressure, which can cause them to warp and discolor. If you see a rainbow of colors across the rotor, it might be caused by heat in the brakes resulting from racing.

4. Helmet Marks On The Headliner

You can probably find evidence of racing on the vehicle’s interior if you know where to look. If the car’s previous owner ran in any formal races, they likely had to wear a helmet. You can find evidence of helmet wear by paying attention to the car’s headliner right above the driver’s seat. You might see some buffing of the fabric or even discoloration.

5. Badly Worn Tires

Check The Tires

There is a chance that the seller might make it easy to tell if a car has been raced by leaving bald tires or racing slicks on the vehicle during the sale. However, if the vehicle has regular tires, discovering the car’s history might be more challenging.

If there are any flat patches on the wheels, this might be the sign of a lockup or skid that occurred during a race. You might also see flat spots on the tires if the owner drag-raced the vehicle and slammed on the brakes to stop at the end of the heat.

Different Patterns Of Wear

Different courses will put additional pressures on a set of wheels that will show up in the tires. If the owner raced on ovals, you might see specific wear on one side of the tires. Similarly, if they ran on road courses, the tires might have uneven wear.

You might also see some stress cracks in the tire sidewalls, caused by the repeated heating and cooling of the tires before, during, and after a race.

6.Unusual Driving Behavior

During the test drive, there are a few things that you can keep an eye out for that will let you know if a car has a racing history. First, pay attention to the suspension. If it’s incredibly hard, that can indicate that the owner stiffened it to allow for more road feel and responsiveness while driving.

Noise And Vibrations

Cars that have raced hard might also have a lot of road noise and shaking coming from different components. If you hear rubbing from the dashboard or the sound of loose bolts in the bodywork, hard racing miles could be to blame. If the previous owner changed the bodywork, the tolerances might be imprecise, contributing to noise while driving.

7. Mileage Doesn’t Add Up

Finally, if you have an OBD-II reader, one creative way to tell if a previous owner raced the car is to compare the engine hours to the odometer’s mileage. This will require a little bit of math, but it shouldn’t be too hard. Essentially, if you take the mileage in the odometer reading and divide it by the hours on the engine, you should get an idea of the average miles-per-hour for the car.

Should Be Low

Generally, consumer cars will have a low average miles-per-hour, somewhere in the range of20-40mph. If you see higher numbers, you can infer that a previous owner drove the car very fast for most of its life. That high average miles per hour indicates that the last driver either had trouble with speed limits or raced their vehicle.

You can also employ an OBD-II reader to evaluate the health of the car’s engine. In some vehicles, the internal computer records specific engine cycles that can be read through an OBD-II scanner. If the car reports redlining or other rev cycles, you can make an informed decision knowing there might be engine or drivetrain wear due to aggressive racing.

Final Thoughts

The 7 signs above are not an exhaustive list of racing symptoms, but it’s a good place to start that should hopefully help you feel confident when purchasing your dream car. One thing to note is that these symptoms of racing are more warning signs than anything. If a vehicle shows this kind of wear and tear, you might be better off finding a different car to purchase.

This list is not intended to put hobby racers in a bad light. Most people who race their cars do so out of love of motorsports and their vehicles. You probably won’t be able to detect if a car has been raced because the owner takes such good care of their car.

If a car seller discloses that they’ve raced their car, don’t immediately shy away. It could be an excellent opportunity to learn about their vehicle, their hobby, and make a new friend in the process!