How to spot a lemon of a used car

Springfield Sun - - AUTOMOTIVE - By Metro Cre­ative Ser­vices

New or pre­owned ve­hi­cles are sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments. New cars might be more ex­pen­sive than pre­owned mod­els, but ac­cord­ing to Edmunds, the av­er­age cost of a pre­owned ve­hi­cle is around $16,000.

Pre­owned ve­hi­cles seem and of­ten are con­sumer-friendly op­tions. How­ever, pre­owned ve­hi­cles al­ways carry some measure of risk. Un­less a ve­hi­cle is cov­ered by a war­ranty, con­sumers take that risk on them­selves.

One way for buy­ers to re­duce any anx­i­ety they may have about pre­owned ve­hi­cles is to learn as much as they can about au­to­mo­biles and spot­ting po­ten­tial lemons. De­spite the avail­abil­ity of ve­hi­cle his­tory re­ports, some lemons still make it onto used car lots. The fol­low­ing are a hand­ful of ways buy­ers can pro­tect them­selves from buy­ing lemons.

-- Re­search ve­hi­cles through rep­utable sources. In­ves­ti­gate the re­li­a­bil­ity ratings of cer­tain ve­hi­cles on rep­utable sites such as, the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion web­site (NHTSA.GOV) and Kelly Blue Book (

-- Ask the right ques­tions. Once you find a ve­hi­cle that in­ter­ests you, ask pointed ques­tions about its con­di­tion and fea­tures. Rel­a­tively new cars with high mileage may raise red flags, so ask how many own­ers such ve­hi­cles had and if main­te­nance records are avail­able. Con­sumer Re­ports says a high-mileage car used on a long high­way com­mute is bet­ter than if the car does many short trips or stopand-go driv­ing. Also ask if a ve­hi­cle you’re con­sid­er­ing has been in an ac­ci­dent or if there are any re­calls on the make and model.

-- Re­quest a ve­hi­cle his­tory re­port. Ask to see a copy of the ve­hi­cle’s his­tory re­port. Such re­ports may in­clude in­for­ma­tion about ma­jor ac­ci­dents, mileage counts, num­ber of own­ers, airbag de­ploy­ment, and many other clues that can shed light on the con­di­tion of the ve­hi­cle. The re­port also may in­cluded war­ranty in­for­ma­tion and whether the car or truck was branded a lemon.

-- Con­duct a vis­ual in­spec­tion. Look at the ve­hi­cle for cer­tain tell­tale signs of wear and tear that may in­di­cate you should not buy the ve­hi­cle. Such indicators may in­clude pre­ma­turely worn ped­als or a sag­ging driver’s seat. Check for dents, chipped paint, mis­matched body panels, body filler, or sloppy re­pair work. In­con­sis­tent welds around the hood also may in­di­cate the car has un­der­gone sig­nif­i­cant re­pairs.

When look­ing un­der the hood, Con­sumer Re­ports sug­gests pay­ing at­ten­tion to the level of grease and cor­ro­sion on the en­gine, ra­di­a­tor and bat­tery. Check for wet spots that may be in­dica­tive of leaks. Melted wires or black­ened areas can be a sign of an en­gine over­heat­ing or even a fire.

-- Rely on a trusted me­chanic. Ask a me­chanic you trust to give the ve­hi­cle a thor­ough, pro­fes­sional in­spec­tion. He or she may be able to spot signs of a lemon more read­ily than am­a­teurs.

Pur­chas­ing a car can in­duce some anx­i­ety. Re­search and pa­tience can calm buy­ers’ nerves and en­sure they find the right ve­hi­cle at the right price.

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