Lemon
by Geoff Riley

Each year, thousands of people use the Internet to find and purchase used cars. Many of those people find good deals. But some invariably end up with lemons. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid buying a lemon.

One way is to have the vehicle examined by a professional technician, before you purchase it. This could cost you approximately $80 – $150, but having a car professionally examined could save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in future repairs. Having a professional technician examine a car you’re interested in is the best way to avoid purchasing a lemon.

But if you choose not to hire a technician, here are some factors to look at while examining the car yourself.

  1. Exterior. Is there a color difference between different body parts of the car? Is there a big difference on the gap of the body panel? This could be masking damage from a crash.
  2. Interior. Is there any moisture in the carpet, or on the windows? This can be a sign of water leaking into the car, or of other malfunctioning car parts.
  3. Rust. Common areas that people miss are under the hood, under the vehicle, and in the trunk.
  4. Sound. How does the engine sound? Avoid a car that knocks, grinds, or sputters.
  5. Drive. Take the car for a drive. Does it drive straight? Or does it pull to one side? If it pulls to one side excessively, it may be that the wheels need an alignment, but there may be more serious problems, so try to avoid a car that pulls to one side, or take it to a technician to be sure.
  6. Pull. Do the engine and transmission pull evenly? Avoid a car that feels hesitant while accelerating.
  7. Leakage. Look under the hood for any evidence of leaks. Be sure to check both before and after you take the car for a test drive. Generally, check for:
    1. Oil = Black
    2. Transmission Fluid = Red
    3. Coolant = Green, Red, White, or Orange (depending on car and manufacturer)
  8. Scents. Scents can indicate a great variety of problems. Trust your nose. Be wary if things inside and around the car don’t smell right.

Considering these factors should assist you in making a good judgment about the condition of the car you’re looking at.