How to Spot a Lemon Car
Whether you’re in the market for a new or near-new vehicle, ending up with a lemon is every car buyer’s greatest fear. While you generally get what you pay for, no matter how much you shell out you’re still at risk of ending up with a fault-plagued vehicle that will be in the scrapyard while you’re still paying off the car loan long after. Here’s a list of the things to look out for and questions to ask to avoid getting stuck with a new mobile money pit.
1. Does the vehicle information number (VIN) set off alarm bells?
Run the VIN number through a PPSR search. This will reveal whether it is stolen property, has been written off or has any outstanding finance.
2. Does the car have comprehensive service history?
A well-documented service history will provide some reassurance the vehicle you’re considering buying has been in good hands.
3. Are there signs the car has been repainted or repaired?
It’s not only used cars that could’ve been in an accident; new cars can also be damaged while in transit. Check for any panels that don’t quite match the rest of the paintwork or suspicious welds.
4. Does the vehicle leak any fluids?
While only the most shameless of car dealers would attempt to sell a vehicle leaking oil, petrol or some other fluid, it’s worth checking under the bonnet and inspecting the ground underneath the car.
5. How much wear is there on the tyres and brakes?
Obviously, near-bald tyres and squeaky brakes will mean an outlay to fix the individual parts in question, but they are also a red flag that the previous owner pushed the vehicle to its limits.
6. Has the car been used as a demo?
A car that’s been around the block a few times (even if it is, literally, only around the block) isn’t the same as a totally new one. There’s a small but significant chance it’s been damaged while being driven by a variety of people unfamiliar with it. However, demo cars can also be very well maintained, so it may be in even better condition than a regular car.
7. Has the car been modified?
Modifications can be costly. For example, cars with souped-up engines tend to be both more expensive to maintain and insure than standard models.
8. What is the final drive-away cost?
A car that’s a reasonable proposition at $25,000 may well be a disappointment at $35,000. Demand to know what the ultimate (aka ‘drive-away’) cost of the car is after any sat navs, car alarms, window tinting or floor mats are added in. It’s particularly important to be across the numbers if you’ve got a preapproved limit on your car loan and set budget.
9. What does the warranty cover exactly?
All new cars and many higher-priced used ones come with some sort of warranty. But be aware that warranties typically have a range of exclusions, and the older and cheaper the car, the more exclusions (and outright loopholes) there are likely to be.
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