Inspecting a Used Car – How to Tell if It’s a Lemon

The worst fear of any used car buyer is getting stuck with a lemon. It’s possible whether you’re buying straight from the owner or from a dealership. Whenever you’re checking out a used car, inspect it for these physical signs that it could be a lemon.

The Exterior

The first thing you’ll check on a used car is its exterior. You should take a slow walk around the entire vehicle and check for signs of present or past damage. Look for obvious damage like broken headlights, dents, cracks in the windows, and other misshaped or crushed parts. Take a close look at the paint job, and check for chips, scratches, and parts of the car that are not the exact same color. Also inspect the wheel wells for paint, which would indicate a recent spray job.

Check to see that all parts of the body are aligned as they should be, or if you notice anything off or sticking out. The gaps in between the body panels should be consistent. If they’re not, it’s evidence or repair or replacement. Make sure the trunk and hood open and close properly. Look for any rust. The tires should be worn evenly. If not, it can be a sign of problem with the car’s suspension or brakes.

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The Interior

When you look inside the vehicle, begin again by checking for obvious damage, such as broken or missing knobs and controls, cracks in the dashboard, and tears in the fabric. A sagging driver’s seat and worn pedals are signs of high mileage. Check all the seatbelts and look to see if they’re frayed, which indicated wear, or melted, which indicates a past accident. Look for discolored seats and floor mats, and look for rust. If the car has a bad smell, it may be hard to get rid of, especially mildew, which is an indication of water damage.

Under the Hood

Pop open the hood and look for damage and wear. You don’t need to be a professional to notice signs of rust and corrosion. Also look for wet spots or anything that’s melted. Check the car’s oil; it should be brown or black. The oil should never be gritty, coagulated, have particles in it, or be a light brown color. Check the transmission fluid; it should be bright red or reddish-brown. The fluid should not be black or dark brown. After the car’s ran for a little bit, turn it off and check under the hood for any strong burning smells.

The Exhaust

When the car is running, check out the tail pipe and asses the fumes and exhaust. Black smoke, blue smoke, and billowing white smoke are all signs of serious engine problems. A little bit of white smoke when the car first starts up is not a sign of a problem.

A Professional Opinion

If the car passes your initial inspection, you should still always let a professional mechanic look at it and asses it for any damage or necessary repairs.

Dan Smith is a car expert and expert on determining the qualities of used vehicles who works in Nissan Sales. He often writes articles about how to ensure you are getting a good deal on cars or car parts.

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