Used cars: there’s plenty to love about them, from their inexpensive price compared to brand-new models, to the fact that they don’t lose nearly as much value once driven off the lot. A used car can be an excellent way to upgrade your ride without breaking the bank. However, there are some important red flags that all used car buyers should look out for before heading down to the dealership. If you opt for a used or pre-owned vehicle the next time you’re in the market, be sure to check for these 5 red flags.
- Salvage title. One of the easiest red flags to watch out for is that the car has a salvage title, meaning it’s been in a major accident. Even if the car has been repaired and appears to be whole and running well, major accidents can cause damage that doesn’t manifest for months or even years later. With so many cars out there that have clean titles, it’s almost never worth it to pay for a car with serious damage in its record. After all, you need to trust the car with your life; it’s worth it to pay a little extra for a vehicle that you know will be safe.
- No service record. Major accidents aside, car trouble happens. Just because the ride you’re looking at has been taken into the shop a couple times doesn’t mean that it’s a bad buy. That said, the seller should be very clear about the record of service the car has had. Routine oil changes, brake pad replacements, new tires, and even simple maintenance problems like a new starter are all consistent with a reasonably reliable car. Whether you find an old Camry or a certified preowned Mercedes for sale, your seller should be transparent about these things, and failure to provide a report is suspicious. That brings us to our next red flag.
- Suspicious dealer. When you go in to price used cars, you should always ask if you can have a professional vehicle inspection performed prior to buying, in addition to a standard test drive. If the dealer seems reluctant or refuses to allow these services, they are not to be trusted. It’s a major red flag. Buying a car is a major life decision, and you want to have all the information you need to make it wisely. Don’t let an unscrupulous car salesperson pressure you into a ride you can’t afford, one that you don’t have the full specs on, or one that you just have a bad gut feeling about.
- Mismatched or off-brand floor mats. This is a subtler one, but it’s a good thing to check for as you look the car over or take it in for an inspection. Peculiarities in the floor mats can be evidence of flood damage – a dire type of damage that can cause ongoing problems in everything from the engine to the transmission. Other signs of water damage include rusted metal on the bottom of the car or inside the cabin, musty odor or pleasantly scented air fresheners intended to mask the musty odor, and water mineral residue in the headlights and along windowsills. Don’t fall prey to a flood-damaged vehicle; be sure to check all for the signs of damage before you sign to buy.
- Extremely low mileage. Hey, low mileage on a used car is great, right? But if that 2011 Toyota RAV-4 has just 3000 miles on it, this may be cause for pause. While that is certainly possible if it was owned by someone who only drove it to the grocery store on weekends, there’s also a decent chance that the odometer has been tampered with. This is another reason why a vehicle inspection is necessary. A professional will be able to determine if the wear and tear on the car matches the number of miles stated on the odometer.
Remember: your car is an important part of your life. You rely on it to get to work safely, as well as transporting your family, friends, pets, or kids. While getting stuck with a lemon is a serious inconvenience, it can also be a huge safety risk. Take the time to make sure that any car you invest money is in good working order and has none of the red flags discussed today.