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How to Avoid Buying a Used Car Lemon

Close up to a lemon with wheels as if it were a vehicle.

If you’re looking to buy a reliable used car for yourself or your teenager, it is still a purchase that requires the same level of attention as if you were buying a new car. In fact, some people think it requires doing more homework because there’s a greater risk of buying a used car lemon. The last thing you want is to end up with a car that will need expensive repairs that are more costly than the car itself. Too bad your car insurance won’t cover defects.

Here are seven tips to help you avoid buying a used car lemon.

Get a vehicle history check

  • This is an easy step to ensure you’re not getting a beat-up car with a nice makeover. Write down the vehicle identification number (VIN) to look up its history through a service like CarFax or AutoCheck. You’ll be able to buy a report that shows where the car was previously titled and how it was registered. Red flags to watch out for include the car being marked as salvaged or flood-damaged.

Take a look at maintenance records

  • One of the things that make for a quality used car is good maintenance. Ask the seller to provide records of routine maintenance, like oil changes, whether they are receipts or a computerized record from a dealer. If they’re not able to furnish you with either, this could be a sign that the car wasn’t cared for properly.

Dig up dirt online

  • If you stay on top of the news, you know it’s no secret that many cars have been recalled, which means they were lemons from the beginning. Do some online research at websites like J.D. Power and Associates or Consumer Reports to learn about a car’s ratings, owner reviews, recalls and safety issues. If you find a significant amount of negative information about a specific model, then perhaps it’s best to walk away from it.

Look for signs of major damage

  • Take a really good look at the car to identify signs of major body work or a paint job. This could signal that it had substantial damage at one point and is now covered up. Inspect the car to look for ripples or waves in the sheet metal or remnants of paint in the wheel wells or on the trim.

Stay away from too many modifications

  • Lots of car enthusiasts like to modify their cars, whether it’s for aesthetics or performance. Keep in mind that a car with several aftermarket accessories like oversized tires or a loud exhaust has likely been taken for a quite the ride.

Beware of the barely used car

  • Many people think they’ve found a treasure when they come across a car that has very little mileage. It’s not uncommon to find such a vehicle that’s owned by an older person who drives a short distance only a couple of days a week. These are also the same cars that didn’t get much maintenance work done because they weren’t driven very much. Remember that short trips can cause significant damage to the engine over a period of time.

Get behind the wheel

  • Last but not least, you should definitely take the car for a test drive. The owner may tell you it’s in mint condition, but it’s up to you to look for red flags. Take it for a spin on city streets and, if possible, the highway. Try different speeds and be on the lookout for any sounds, vibrations or smells that might indicate that something is in need of repair.

As you begin or continue your search for a used car, keep these tips handy. It may require a bit more homework than settling on a brand new car, but it will save you from a headache down the road by steering away from a used car lemon.

Speaking of headaches, you could be paying too much for car insurance if you haven’t got a quote lately.

Have you ever had a lemon?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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