September 26, 2023 | Sammy Tran

10 Red Flags to Watch For When Buying a Used Car

Signs You Might Be Buying a Lemon

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Buying a used vehicle from a private owner can be a budget-friendly way to own a car, but it also comes with certain risks. To ensure you don’t end up with a lemon, it’s vital to be aware of potential red flags. 

Here are the top indicators that might signal troubles lurking beneath the surface of that seemingly great deal.

The Seller is Evasive or Rushed

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If the seller avoids answering questions, is reluctant to allow a pre-purchase inspection, or seems in a hurry to close the deal, these are significant red flags. A transparent seller should have no issue answering questions about the car's history, condition, or value.

Mismatched Paint or Over Spray

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Mismatched paint or areas with over spray can be a sign of past accidents or repairs. While this isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s crucial to find out the extent of the damage and whether it was properly repaired.

The Vehicle has a Salvage Title

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A salvage title means the car has been deemed a total loss by the insurance company. This could be due to extensive damage from an accident, flood, or other catastrophic events. Salvage vehicles can be risky purchases due to potential hidden damage and low resale value.


Fluid Leaks

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Any signs of fluid leaks under the car can signal problems with the engine, transmission, or other critical systems. Leaks can lead to expensive repairs and are often indicative of poor maintenance.

The Price is Too Good to Be True

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While everyone loves a good deal, a price significantly below market value should raise eyebrows. It could be a sign of undisclosed issues or a desperate attempt to offload a problematic vehicle.

Inconsistent Service History

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A sporadic or inconsistent service history might indicate neglect and could mean impending, costly repairs. It's crucial to review maintenance records to ensure the vehicle has been properly cared for throughout its life.

Unusual Noises or Smells

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Any strange noises or smells when you start or drive the car can signal underlying issues. This could range from mild concerns like worn belts to severe problems like engine damage.

Mismatched Tires


Mismatched tires could be a sign of a lack of regular maintenance or an attempt to disguise more serious issues, such as alignment problems due to frame damage.

Warning Lights on the Dashboard

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Illuminated warning lights can reveal problems with the engine, transmission, or other vital systems. While some may be easy fixes, others can signal expensive repairs looming on the horizon.


Varying Wear on Brake Pedals or Driver’s Seat

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Significant wear on the brake pedal or driver’s seat compared to the stated mileage could mean the odometer has been tampered with. Check for consistent wear throughout the interior to verify the accuracy of the reported mileage.

Final Thoughts

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When purchasing a used vehicle from a private seller, diligence is key. Take your time to inspect the vehicle thoroughly, ask for maintenance records, and if possible, have a trusted mechanic inspect the vehicle before finalizing the purchase. 

Being informed and alert can help you avoid purchasing a problematic vehicle and ensure you find a reliable and valuable car to suit your needs.