When Used Car Lots Give You Lemons

December 13, 2016 - 6 minutes read



The time has finally come to retire your current set of wheels and find another trusted four-wheeled vehicle to get you from point A to point B. You’re a frugal shopper who realizes how much the value of a new car plummets once you drive it off the lot; being the bargain hunter you are, you venture over to the used car lot. After looking and kicking a few tires, you find a 3-year-old luxury car that has a price that is too good to pass up. You haggle with the salesperson over price and finally come to terms on a deal that allows you to drive your bargain treasure home. Unfortunately, just as you drive off the lot, thick white smoke bellows from underneath the hood and the wheels come clean off your discount luxury treasure. While this story is a bit of an exaggeration, it is sadly not too far from other horror stories involving used cars that have been bought by other people. While it is true that purchasing a used car is a risk-reward proposition, by taking a few simple steps, you can help make that proposition more reward and less risk.

Every vehicle in a used car lot has a story to tell and knowing that history can help you determine if there is actual value in that supposed bargain. The first step towards getting that vehicle’s story is getting its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). A VIN is a 17 digit number that can be found in one of three typical places:

-The top of the instrument panel of the vehicle;

-The base of the windshield; or

-On a sticker placed on the driver’s side pillar of the vehicle.

As a precaution, check the VIN number in all three of these locations; if any of the numbers are different, then that vehicle very likely isn’t what the dealership says it is. Having the valid VIN number allows you to obtain information on any accidents it may have been involved in, any problems the vehicle has had, and possible odometer discrepancies. For added research, see if the vehicle model’s history speaks to any recalls that took place.

While you’re on the lot, don’t be afraid to see if the vehicle passes a visual inspection test, regardless of any flack you get from a car dealer. One of the first things on the vehicle to inspect can be the tires. When taking a closer look at the tires you should be on the lookout for uneven wear, even signs of balding on the sides or the middle of the tires. A trick you can do to determine if the vehicle has been involved in any collisions, involves the use of a small magnet on your refrigerator. If you place the magnet on any of the body panels and it does not stay, chances are there is plastic body filler behind the panel, indicating that the vehicle has been involved in a collision. Used vehicles have also been known to have suffered water damage. One way to determine if the vehicle was involved in a flood is to feel around the top of the gas tank underneath the vehicle to see if there is any mud or leaves. When conducting the test drive of the vehicle, it’s advisable to have a checklist of things to be watching for. Is the engine making noises that do not seem normal to you? Do the usual lights illuminate the dashboard that are supposed to when you start up the vehicle (i.e. “check engine”, “ABS”, etc.)? Does the car pull to the left or right when applying the brakes? These are a few things to be mindful of throughout your test drive.

As you wrap up your used car shopping experience, there are a few more steps to take after you bring it home. If after the visual inspection of the vehicle and the test drive you still feel uneasy about your prospective purchase, have your mechanic give the vehicle a closer look. Verify that the title for the vehicle exists; contact the department of motor vehicles in your area to determine what is needed to get the vehicle titled to you. Finally, have the terms of the vehicle purchase presented for you to review; have a clear understanding of the stated condition of the vehicle and how it is to be delivered to you.

While purchasing a vehicle can be a bit of a hassle, following these tips should hopefully make the fruits of your next excursion to the used car lot a productive one. If you suspect that you were sold a vehicle with major defects that have caused some kind of damage to you or your loved ones, please reach out to the Law Offices of Michael Cordova to determine if anything can be done for you.