How to Avoid Buying a Lemon

It happens to everyone. The cashier at the grocery store is bagging your items: your salad supplies, your lunch meats, the rotisserie chicken. You don’t see it until you’re stuffing the grocery bags into the trunk of your car—you accidentally bought a lemon. Yuck!

We’re just being silly. A “lemon” is what you call a vehicle that has serious manufacturing defects that prevent it from running properly. We’re not talking about a worn carpet or chipped paint. Lemon vehicles have major internal faults that could prevent the car from functioning altogether, or they could actually endanger you while you’re driving. These faults may cost thousands of dollars to fix. You get a really sour taste in your mouth when you buy a lemon.

Thankfully, you can avoid buying a lemon if you follow a few simple rules during the car buying process. Here’s what they are.

Get a Vehicle History Report

If you’re going to buy a used car, it’s absolutely crucial that you get a vehicle history report. A vehicle history report basically gives a summary of that car’s history. It tells you how many people owned the car, and, more importantly, whether the vehicle was damaged in any collisions.

You’re not necessarily looking for small collisions where the only damage was chipped paint. You’re checking to see if the vehicle was in any larger collisions that may have caused severe structural damage. Vehicles can always be repaired after an accident, but the internal frame often suffers permanent damage and can’t be re-strengthened. That sort of damage could eventually cause a car to become a lemon. If the vehicle history report shows a major collision, you should exercise caution in buying the vehicle. If a dealership refuses to show you the vehicle history report, it might be a good sign that there are major collisions on its record that they don’t want you to know about.

If a vehicle has had an unusually large number of owners, it might be an indication that the vehicle came straight from the assembly line with a major defect. You’d be surprised at how many people struggle through auto problems and never bother to get it diagnosed. They just give up and decide to sell it off.

Buy a New Vehicle

The best way to surmount the problems that can come from a used vehicle is to buy a new vehicle. You’re not stupid for buying a new car. Although the price tag is higher, you’re going to be getting a fresh vehicle with only a minimum number of miles under its belt, and no collisions.

It’s true that sometimes, vehicles come straight from the assembly line with major damage. Or, major defects are discovered after the car is first released, and the vehicles are recalled. These occurrences are rare, but they do happen. If you want to minimize your chance of buying a faulty new vehicle, you might want to buy a luxury vehicle. Luxury vehicles are more expensive because there’s more care put into their assembly, and because they come with better components. You can find luxury vehicles at surprisingly good prices. Just search for a new Mercedes or new Audi for sale in your local area.

If you’re looking to buy a recreational vehicle, it might even be more important to buy one new because there are so many different features that could get damaged by prior owners.

Get the Vehicle Inspected Before You Buy

Whether you’re buying a used car from a dealership or from a private seller, you should always take it to a mechanic to get it inspected before you sign any paperwork. The seller could be lying about the actual condition of the car, or there might even be problems that the seller doesn’t know about. But choose a mechanic you trust and get the vehicle inspected so you’ll know for sure it’s not a lemon. All vehicle sellers should allow you to take a vehicle to a mechanic—it’s standard practice. This might be the best way to protect your investment when you’re buying a used car.

Test Drive the Vehicle

Last but not least, be sure to test drive the vehicle before you purchase it. Buying a car is a stressful process and some people get too hasty and don’t bother to give it a thorough drive before they buy. Be sure to drive it on both the street and on the highway, and test out its brakes, air conditioning, turn radius, and the vehicle’s electronics systems. Failures in any of these areas could indicate severe defects.

Don’t buy a lemon! Make lemonade out of your car purchase by just abiding by these simple car-buying guidelines.

About the Author

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Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal fun and accessible. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.

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