Used cars are occasionally an extraordinarily good deal, but as many used car dealerships as are out there today selling cars that are nothing but lemons, you’d think they’d be in the lemonade stand business instead of selling cars. While only a relatively small number of cars really fall under United States lemon laws when compared to the number of vehicles sold every day, the fact is that unless you’re dealing with a dealership you trust, and have had good experiences with in the past, you really do need to be careful. Some dealerships are out there for nothing more than to separate you from your cash. Besides, the actual lemon laws in place in all fifty states don’t protect buyers of used vehicles. Those are, for the most part, only for new cars. Just six states have so far enacted laws that protect consumers from used-car lemons, and for the most part, consumers still have a tough time proving their case if they have bought a car that is more trouble than it is worth.
To spot a lemon while you’re still on the car lot, the first thing you have to do is take a good look around. What do you see? Car lots that are branded, which means that they carry the name of the manufacturer of the vehicles they sell, usually get their used car stock from trade-ins, and to a lesser extent, auctions. The buyers who purchase the cars from auction are typically very good at what they do - former mechanics who don’t buy vehicles that they can’t re-sell. That means they only buy lower-mileage cars that have all the hallmarks of a well-cared-for vehicle. This makes sense since they can ask more for those cars and trucks, and make more money on it. On the other hand, if you’re at a buy-here-pay-here car lot where you see a lot of high-mileage cars, even if they’re luxury cars, your chances of buying a car with a major problem skyrocket.
Paint - It’s actually pretty easy to spot a car that has been repainted. If you can’t tell at all whether there was any cosmetic work done on the car, it was probably done by a certified professional, and so shouldn’t be as much as a problem. If you look down the side of the vehicle, at an angle of about ten degrees, you can see two things - waves in the bodywork that distort the reflections nearby, and “orange peel.” Waves in the bodywork are most obvious, but orange peel is tough. All vehicles come from the factory with orange peel, which is a slight bumpiness in the paint. It actually helps protect the paint from scratches, and since factory paint is applied by robots, it’s uniform all over the car. Unprofessional body shops won’t be able to match the texture of the paint, and may even fail to match the paint color correctly. This may indicate that the vehicle was rebuilt from a major accident.
Engine and Transmission - Blue smoke from the exhaust is never a good sign. It generally indicates that there’s a leak that allows oil to enter the combustion chamber. Repairs of this magnitude can quickly eclipse the value of the car itself. Often, though, problems with the engine and transmission are tough to find by sight. More often, you’ll find that smell is a good way to diagnose a car as a lemon. Generally speaking, if it’s a bad smell, it’s a bad problem. Rotten eggs, burnt rubber and gas are not good smells to detect in a car. However, maple syrup can be problematic, as well, so just watch for those smells that don’t belong in a car, and you’ll be far less likely to buy into a lemon that you may not be able to fix!