Purchasing a car used is a great way to save money. This doesn't mean that every used car is a great deal, though. In some cases, a used car could end up costing you more than new in the long run if the car needs a lot of ongoing work to stay on the road. Fortunately, there are ways to spot one of these lemons so you don't make a mistake when choosing your car. The following signs can indicate trouble.
Sign #1: No service records
Most late model used cars should have some service records. This is because many dealerships provide routine service for free or at a discounted price for the first couple years of ownership, and these records of service are maintained digitally. If there are absolutely no service records available, proceed with caution. A free car report can also help provide information on service visits, as well. The car may not have received routine maintenance which means it may be due for a major breakdown.
Sign #2: Multiple owners
A car that is always changing ownership likely has a few problems. Late model cars that have more than one owner showing on the car report over a short span of years should definitely be considered a red flag, since a car that performs well usually won't change hands very often. Even if the car isn't a lemon with major problems yet, it may develop some since cars that change hands often likely weren't cared for properly.
Sign #3: Body damage
You will need to look the car over carefully for signs of body damage. While most major damage should appear on the car report, in some cases accidents and damage repairs do go unreported so you need to do a thorough inspection. Study the paint in sunlight for signs of slight color differences that may indicate a repair. Also, run your hands over the car to check for ripples or bumps that may indicate a repair site. Finally, take the car on a test drive at highway speeds and make sure there are no shimmies, pulls, or shakes that could indicate frame damage.
Sign #4: Out of state vehicles
Your car report should give you a VIN history of the vehicle, which will show you whether the car was brought in from out of state to sell. If it was, look closely at where it was brought from to make sure there were no recent floods or natural disasters in the area. Often, flood damaged cars are cleaned up and moved out of state to sell. These cars often have hidden damage that will eventually surface.
Requesting a free car history report can be an invaluable tool for spotting a lemon when you are shopping for a used car.