7 Red Flags When Buying a Used Car According to Consumer Reports

Buying a used car can become stressful quickly. You’re about to invest quite a bit of money into an object you need to run. There are many lemons on the road, often passed to unsuspecting buyers. Or vehicles that were once amazing to drive but are past their prime. If you’re looking for a new-to-you car, here are seven red flags you need to walk away from. 

1. Check for rust when buying a used car

A used car lot where people go to when they are in need of buying a used car.
Used car dealership | Matthew Hatcher via Getty Images

A small spot of rust may seem unsightly, but it’s doing a lot of damage to your vehicle, according to Consumer Reports. It has a knack for finding small, hidden-away spots. From there, it spreads like a virus to the rest of the vehicle. 

Things only get worse when you add salt, water, and air, which increases the spread of rust. For those who live in places where the roads are salted in winter, this will only enable the rust to do a lot of damage to your vehicle.

2. Smell of mold or mildew

This problem may be annoying for your nose, but it’s also a sign that this is not the vehicle for you. If you smell mildew or mold, it’s a good sign that this car has either been through a flood, or there is a water leak. 

Water can do significant damage to mechanical systems, electronics, and lubricants. These can also be incredibly expensive to repair. 

3. Misaligned body panels check is a must when buying a used car

A misaligned body panel may not be as evident as some of the other items on this list, but it’s still something you need to look out for. You may notice the body paint isn’t quite the same shade as the rest of the vehicle, or the door doesn’t seem to shut as smoothly as others. If this is the case, it could be a sign the vehicle has been through a wreck and parts have been replaced.

While it’s good that the vehicle could be repaired, this could be more cosmetic than an actual solution. There could still be unseen damages, such as a lack of structural integrity. This means the vehicle won’t be able to protect you as well in the event of a wreck.

4. Spongy brakes


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For some new vehicles, mushy brakes are just a part of the deal. For most vehicles, however, this isn’t normal.

Brakes that keep pushing down for an extended period or feel mushy may be a clue that the brake fluid needs to be flushed. It may also be a warning sign of worse things to come, like when the master cylinder on the brakes fails. 

5. Worn-out shocks and struts

Have you ever noticed someone pushing down on each corner of the car? This is because they’re checking the struts and shocks. If the car bounces back up, then the struts are fine. If they don’t, the shocks and struts are not working properly. 

6. The seller doesn’t want to share the history report or doesn’t have the title

Receiving a history report and the title should be a normal process for buying a used car. If the seller declines to give you the history report, then this could be a clue that there has been some damage they aren’t eager to disclose.

On the same note, if the seller doesn’t have the title, then this is a red flag that you may be about to buy a stolen vehicle

7. Open recalls

Some recalls aren’t that big of a deal, but many involve factors such as major repairs. There are even several recalls on vehicles currently that are prone to catching on fire. If there is an open recall, you’d be better off purchasing another used vehicle than dealing with the hassle of getting the repair honored.