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Car Shopping: How to Avoid Buying a Lemon

A man inspecting a faulty car to illustrate how not to be taken in when buying a lemon car.

When shopping for a used car, auto insurance is just one of the many things you need to keep in mind. Shopping for a used car can be risky. You may end up with a reliable car at a fair purchase price or you may wind up purchasing a car that turns out to be a lemon. 

So, how can you beat the odds and lower your chances of purchasing that “too good to be true” car deal? We’ve found a few tried and true tips that may give you a leg up in your search and help you avoid the dreaded lemon. Spend your monthly budget on your car payment, gas, and affordable car insurance — not on costly surprise repairs! 

What’s A Lemon Car, Anyway? 

While the story commonly told is that Volkswagen coined the phrase in its infamous lemon ad in the 1960s, it’s likely we’ve used the word lemon to describe a defective vehicle since cars became a part of our daily lives more than one hundred years ago.

In the days before we even had automobiles, the word “lemon” was used to describe objects that had  “gone bad” or “left a sour taste”. For some reason, the word was found to be particularly apt when describing cars, to the point where virtually every state has adopted the vernacular in their  “lemon laws”. 

Lemon cars are not just a hassle. Vehicle defects can also lead to major accidents that put drivers and passengers alike at risk of serious injury. 

The specifics vary across the United States, but ultimately these laws dictate that an auto manufacturer must buy back any cars that can’t be repaired after a “reasonable number of attempts”. The number of repair attempts that is acceptable seems to depend on the specifics of each law. One thing to note is that the law usually only applies to new cars, but some state lemon laws also apply to used cars. 

Federal lemon laws also provide protection for consumers. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act amended the Federal Trade Commission Act to set out standards and regulations that car warranties must follow. 

How To Avoid Buying A Lemon Car

The best way to avoid buying a lemon is to check to make sure the vehicle doesn’t have any hidden damage or safety issues that could turn your dream ride into an absolute nightmare. Of course, this is easier said than done. Let’s get into particular questions you should ask and specific problems you should look for. 

Ask: What’s The Mileage And Was The Car Driven For Commuting?

Whether you’re buying from a private party or a dealer, mileage is something to consider before signing on the dotted line. Just because a car has low mileage doesn’t necessarily make it a great find. It’s a good idea to ask the seller for some information about how those miles were driven. 

If the car was used to commute, even locally, it may have caused more stress on the transmission and brakes. When possible, try purchasing a vehicle that was primarily driven for leisure, rather than for a commute. It may save you a few bucks in maintenance down the road.

Inspect: Check The Car For Cosmetic Damages

You want to visually check the car to make sure it’s in good condition. Check for scratches in the paint, small dents in the body, and any stains or tears in the interior. A used car will never be in as good of condition as a new motor vehicle, but pointing out any small damages can knock a few hundred dollars off of the price in your negotiations so it’s worth noting.

Ask: Has This Vehicle Been Recalled?

Vehicle manufacturers recall cars for a number of things – some more dangerous than others. This may include safety issues with airbags, brakes, and accelerator pedals. Does the work still need to be addressed or have required factory repairs been made? Dealerships will have records of work completed.

Inspect: Thoroughly Check Under The Hood

There are a few things that you, as the vehicle buyer, should be looking for when checking under the hood of a used vehicle. Make sure that there are no cracks or tears in any belts or hoses as this can be a sign of substantial damage. Make sure the engine is grease-free and keep an eye out for any fluid leaks. These are all sure signs of trouble to come.

If you can, ask to take the vehicle for a test drive. Definitely walk away quickly if you see black smoke under the hood of the vehicle once it turns on. 

Ask: Can I See This Car’s Service Records?

Don’t be afraid to inquire if service records are available. They can show proper maintenance of the vehicle from regularly scheduled oil changes to possible engine and transmission repairs

When working with a dealership, ask to see the Carfax printout. Unless the vehicle is a nightmare waiting to happen, a reputable dealer will gladly show you the vehicle history report. If your request is met with hesitation, walk away. You’ll probably be saving yourself a ton of money.

If you’re dealing with a private party who doesn’t have the proper maintenance records, taking the vehicle to a mechanic is your best bet. They can tell you if the vehicle has any major defects. 

Inspect: Check The Tread On The Tires

Vehicle tires can tell you quite a bit about how the car was maintained. If the tread is uneven, this can mean that the car was being driven while being under or over inflated — a sure sign that it wasn’t regularly maintained. This can also mean that other parts of the car were caused unnecessary stress, and may have more wear and tear than anticipated.

Help — I Own a Lemon Car Already!

If you have a sinking feeling that your recent automobile purchase is a lemon, try not to panic. You may be able to have your specific problem addressed, making your vehicle road-worthy. 

Or, you might be protected by state law and eligible to make a lemon law claim. A lemon law attorney can provide you with legal advice and help you interpret how the federal law can help you. Claims are often solved through an arbitration process that avoids many court costs. 

No matter the condition of your car, you can save yourself from further headache by investing in high-quality, low-cost car insurance. Don’t assume you’re already getting the best auto insurance rates. Make sure by receiving a free auto insurance quote comparison from Freeway Insurance today. Call us at (800) 777-5620 or visit an office near you.

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