Consumer Reports: How to Check a Used SUV for Warning Signs

Buying a used SUV instead of a new SUV can be a great way to save money. Buying the wrong used SUV can also be a great way to burn money quickly. Here’s how to check a used SUV for significant warning signs.

Why you should check a used SUV for warning signs before purchasing it

A navy blue Honda CR-V SUV is parked on a street.
Honda CR-V pictured in Shatin. | Jonathan Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

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A used SUV’s reliability has to do with more than just some of its main mechanical components. There are a few telltale signs of major wear and tear that every potential buyer should know. Steering clear of SUVs with these warning signs could save you from costly repair bills. Some issues could completely change your decision on whether you want the SUV or not if detected.

One of the first warning signs to check for is an interior odor. An interior odor could indicate leaks. Odors that smell like mildew could often result from water damage or flood damage, which would make the SUV much less valuable. If a vehicle experienced water damage, it should be noted on its title. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, especially in private sales.

Checking a used SUV for water or flooding damage is easy because this type of damage usually leaves a pungent odor. Check the carpet, seats, and other materials for any indication of being wet. If there are any noticeable damp spots, you should question if this SUV is really the one for you.

Is a used SUV’s suspension ready to rock or is it shot?

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Checking your used SUV for warning signs like a worn-out suspension can take plenty of the bumps out of used SUV ownership. According to Consumer Reports, you should push down on every corner of the SUV to check its stability. Is the SUV even on all of its sides?

If the SUV bounces up and down after you push down on its corners, it should tell you all you need to know about its suspension. For further examination, grab the tops of the tires and pull them back and forth. Clunking noises could mean that there’s something seriously wrong with the SUV’s suspension.

An SUV’s suspension provides a safe, smooth ride for motorists and passengers. Vehicles with a damaged suspension bounce around with every bump and pothole you encounter, violently shaking the body of the SUV.

An SUV’s instrument cluster can display major warning signs

A vehicle's instrument cluster has different symbols lit up.
A vehicle’s instrument cluster | Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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When looking to purchase a used SUV, check its instrument cluster for any flashing lights or solid warning lights. Put the key in the ignition and turn the vehicle’s power on without starting the engine. Lights will appear or flicker if the SUV’s computer detects issues such as an engine problem. Tire pressure issues can be displayed on the instrument cluster, which could mean a flat tire in some cases or low tire pressure.

Though diagnostic scan tools and code readers can be used to turn off lights that should be on, the instrument cluster is often the easiest way to diagnose an SUV’s issues. Most instrument cluster lights are self-explanatory, but if you’re unsure what a symbol means, check the vehicle’s manual or describe the symbol in a google search query.

Other used SUV warning signs to look out for

When purchasing a used SUV, check the tires on the vehicle to see if they are the same brand and size. Check the tire treads to see if they are worn. Checking an SUV’s engine bay for cleanliness and damage is also important.

The more carefully you look at a used vehicle, the better. Hiring a mechanic to inspect a vehicle is a great way to ensure that you don’t miss any significant warning signs before making a purchase.

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