You Should Never Buy a Used Car With These Warning Signs, Consumer Reports Says

Some people have found good deals buying a used car. Others not so much. Sites like Consumer Reports have plenty of useful guides to used car buying. You can get tips for getting the most for your money and how to check a car’s history report

Plus, you should know the warning signs to avoid buying a lemon, Consumer Reports advises. Here’s what you should check to find out if something is wrong with the used car you might be thinking of purchasing. 

Exterior signs that can indicate problems in a used car

A rusty used car
A rusty used car | Daniel Schäfer/picture alliance via Getty Images

One of the first things you should do is go around the outside of the vehicle, looking for dents in the body and cracks in the windshield. Rust spots can also be an issue, but if there’s only a trace amount, you could clean it up and rust-proof the vehicle to ensure it stays in good shape for a long time. 

Other items to look for include windows, doors, hoods, or trunk lids that don’t seal properly. This could signify that the vehicle was damaged and that someone did a shabby job of repairing it.

Tires are another important item to check. If you notice uneven wear in the rubber, it could indicate there are issues with the steering, suspension, or brakes. 

Interior signs that point to issues

We all love a comfortable, clean, and stylish interior in a vehicle. However, you need to look beyond that to see if big problems are brewing behind the scenes. Look for any cracks in the dashboard, broken or missing knobs, and handles that don’t work. These items are sure signs someone hasn’t taken care of their car. 

Other items, like frayed seat belts, should concern you. If something is worn that badly, it could rip open soon. It might also be an indication that a frontal impact could’ve taken place on the car. An airbag warning light that doesn’t go away is another warning sign of a possible collision. 

What to look for when it comes to performance

To see how well a vehicle performs, you need to take it out for a drive. Pay attention to see if the steering wheel shakes on relatively smooth roads. Does it pull to one side? If so, the used car might need front-end alignment or, worse, have a driveline issue, which could cost a lot of money to repair.

Also, check the exhaust. You don’t want to see black smoke because it could indicate a faulty oxygen sensor or defective mass-air meter. Blue smoke means oil is burning, and that’s likely another expensive repair. 

In addition, how well does the used car accelerate? Do you notice a lot of revving before the vehicle takes off when you press the accelerator pedal? More often than not, you have an automatic transmission problem or a worn-out clutch. The clutch isn’t as expensive to fix as the transmission, though.

You should also listen to the engine for any unusual knocking noises or pings. It could be the engine overheating or an ignition timing problem.

These issues under the hood can indicate bigger problems with a used car


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When you look under the hood, you should check for a few things. First, are there any wet or oily spots? Oily substances are an indication of an engine or transmission problem, like a leaky head gasket. Are the belts in good shape, or are they full of cracks and missing rubber pieces? Cracks in belts are a sign of their needing replacement soon, or you could be stuck in the middle of nowhere with a busted belt. 

The next thing you want to check is all the fluid levels. Ensure everything is full, and observe what state the fluid is in. The oil level for the engine should be full or just under full. If it’s too low, the owner either hasn’t taken good care of it, or there’s a major leak somewhere. Also, if the oil is a frothy consistency, you’re probably looking at a damaged cylinder head or bad head gasket

Buying a used car doesn’t have to be a headache, but you need to inspect it thoroughly. Ensure there aren’t any signs that something bad could be happening behind the scenes, or you could find yourself with expensive repairs not long after you plunk down your hard-earned money to buy the car.