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7 Tips to Make Sure a Used Car Isn’t a Lemon

No one wants to buy a lemon  when they’re looking for a used car. A lemon – no, not the fruit – is a vehicle that has multiple manufacturing defects. The vehicle may be new, but a lemon is often a vehicle that has to be repeatedly repaired.

Sometimes, a lemon is a vehicle that is unfixable.

We’re not talking about minor issues with your car. Vehicles require a lot of upkeep, but when this upkeep is substantial, it’s likely that you bought a lemon. Roughly 1% of new cars are “lemons,” and there are lemon laws that protect consumers in these circumstances.

And while it can be impossible to determine if a car is a lemon when buying brand new, it’s easier to determine with a used vehicle.

These tips can help.

1. Check Consumer Reports and Reliability Records

A lot of free outlets, such as J.D. Power, will have a complete profile for your vehicle. This is a great resource to be able to find common problems with the vehicle you’re purchasing.  Consumer Reports charges for their profile, so it’s better to use another resource.

Edmunds also has a way for you to view used vehicles used and then be able to see reviews on the vehicle.

I’m seeing that a 2015 Civic, which I personally own, has a 4.4-star rating with one of the biggest complaints being that the MPG is overstated (I agree).

2. Check Out Forums

I’m a Civic owner, and there are several forums where people go on and discuss Civics. These forums are specific to the model, and they’re able to provide a wealth of information on your vehicle.

You can sign up for the forums and ask users what the most common issues are with your potential vehicle.

Also check for any common issues that keep appearing. For example, a user may claim that the window’s motor continues to die, and this was definitely an issue with 2002 Civics which had window motors die for seemingly no reason.

Forums will be your go-to option when you have an unknown issue with your vehicle, and they will also be able to alert you to issues others have faced with your vehicle.

3. Bring an OBD-II Reader

If you see a check engine light on in the car or the car can be given a 20–30-minute test drive, you’ll be able to pull out your OBD-II reader and diagnose the car’s issue on your own. A lot of people forget to clean their codes, and this allows you to see what’s ailing a vehicle.

We recommend trying Uberfix MD or FIXD to pull up any codes that are stored in the vehicle’s computer.

When you’re able to quickly and easily read these codes, it will provide insight into issues the owner may not be telling you about.

You may also have peace of mind in knowing that the code that has plagued the owner is nothing more than a gas cap that needs to be replaced.

4. Pay a Mechanic to Inspect the Vehicle

Mechanics are always looking to make some spare money, and it may cost you $100 to $150 to hire one to come along to check out the vehicle you want to purchase. But this is a small price to pay to have peace of mind in knowing that the vehicle you plan to buy is in good condition.

Mechanics that are certified will have the experience needed to find problems that the normal person wouldn’t notice with their vehicle.

Lemon Squad is a national company that will have a professional come out to inspect the vehicle you want to purchase. The service is expensive, so you may want to ask your local mechanic or ask your friends on Facebook if anyone knows of a mechanic that you can pay for the inspection.

5. Check the Car History

CarFax is a great outlet that allows you to check the entire history of a vehicle. The history will cover a lot of things, such as:

  • Potential mileage fraud
  • Flooding
  • Accidents
  • Fire damage

And while this is just a small bit of information about your vehicle, it will provide some pertinent details if the vehicle has been in a major collision and may have mechanical issues.

6. Avoid Vehicles with a Lot of Customization

A lot of people want to customize their vehicles, and these individuals will put in high-end mufflers, alter the engine, change out the mass air flow system, and while the vehicle may be faster, the vehicle is not operating as intended by the manufacturer.

These “tricked out” vehicles will put more strain on the engine and internal components of the vehicle.

The end result?

You may be purchasing a vehicle that is suffering premature wear and tear due to the customizations of the owner.

7. Check Warranty Histories

Manufacturers have warranties in place to be able to safeguard the purchases of consumers. With 1% of new vehicles being lemons, it’s essential that the vehicle have a warranty to protect against any manufacturer defect that may be present.

But the warranty will also allow for the vehicle’s warranty history to be logged in the manufacturer’s database.

You may be able to access this database by calling the manufacturer, such as GM or Ford, and requesting the warranty history of the vehicle. This will be key in knowing if the vehicle is a lemon or not.

Perhaps the vehicle has had the transmission repaired six times in three years under warranty. This is obviously a recurring issue, and it would be a major red flag that warns you to not purchase the vehicle under any circumstance.

Transmission repairs are very expensive, timely and are the costliest.

If you’re purchasing the used car from a dealership, you should see if the dealership offers any form of an extended warranty. The dealer’s warranty is a safeguard that will allow you to have any issues that are major repaired for free. A lot of dealerships will offer this warranty to help increase their chances of making a sale.

November 13, 2019


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