6 Easy Tips to Avoid A Lemon Car

This summer, you will undoubtedly see advertisements for new and used cars on billboards, flyers, newspapers and at your local NYC car dealerships. Perhaps the sight of the inflatable wavy wacky tube man will entice you to look at the shiny red convertible parked in front of the dealership. So, how do you avoid buying a lemon car?  Here are 6 easy tips to avoid a lemon car.

1. Ask Questions. More Questions,The Better.  

  • “How many miles does it have?” If the mileage is higher than 20,000 per year or lower than 5,000, ask why. A high-mileage car used on a long highway commute is better than if it did a lot of short trips or stop-and-go driving.
  • “How is it equipped?” Transmission type; A/C; antilock brakes; airbags; audio system; power windows, locks, seats, and mirrors; cruise control.
  • “What’s the car’s condition?” Start broad to see if the seller brings up something you did not think to ask.
  • “How about the body and interior?”
  • “Has it been in an accident?”
    • If yes, ask about the extent of the damage, the cost of repairs, and the shop that did the work. Serious accidents should be a red flag.
  • “Do you have service records?”
    • You want a car that has had maintenance performed at regular manufacturer-specified intervals. Ask for maintenance receipts for any new muffler, brakes, tires, or other “wear” parts that have been replaced. Receipts should note the odometer reading.
  • “Has the car been recalled?
    • Was any safety-recall work performed? When?
  • Are you the first owner?
    • If buying from a private seller, you want to know how owners the car has had.
  • Who is the primary driver?
    • Is it the private seller who seems responsible or their teenager with a need for speed.

2. Inspect the Exterior

  • Inspect the ENTIRE car for dents, rust, scratches and anything that could indicate a repair.
  • Cracked windows are expensive to replace.
  • Suspension should be sitting level and the car should not be bounce. Tip: Pull on the top of each tire. If the tire feels loose or there is a clunking metallic sound, the wheel bearings and/or suspension joints may need service.
  • Headlights and reflectors should not have cracks and not have any foggy moisture.
  • Tires should have even wear across the treads on all tires.
  • Tires must have at least 1/16 inch of tread to be legal. Insert a quarter into the tread groove, with Washington’s head down. If you can see the top of Washington’s head, the tire needs to be replaced.
  • Wear on the outside shoulder of the front tire, edge of the sidewall indicates heavier aggressive driving.
  • More wear on the middle of the tire than the side of the tire indicates overinflated tires.
  • Spare tire should be in good shape with jack and lug wrench. 

3. Inspect the Interior

  • Does interior smell like a new car or an ashtray? Odors caused by smoke and mold from water damage may be expensive to get rid of.
  • Do ALL the seats work properly?
  • Gas and brake pedal worn or lightly used? Check the rubber on the pedals for wear.
  • Dashboard instruments and controls.
  • Make sure all the dashboard lights – especially check engine light – work by starting the car.
  • Do the AC and heat controls work properly? Does the AC quickly cool the car or does the AC need to be recharged? How does the air smell when the heat is on high?
  • Speakers and sound system.
  • Check if your phone or other devices connect and work properly with the car. Does the bluetooth work? How about the AUX cable port?
  • Roof Upholstery
    • Does the roof sag or are there any water spots? Sunroof or windows that improperly close may leaks and cause water damage.

4. Pop the Hood

  • Check the battery condition
  • If the battery has filler caps, clean the caps, unscrew the caps and look at the liquid level. If the level is low, the battery may be working too hard and a mechanic may need to conduct a load test on the battery.
  • Some batteries have a charge indicator. Green indicates a full charge while Yellow or Black indicates that the battery needs to be replaced.
  • Belts and hoses are in proper working condition if the rubber is firm and flexible, not dry, cracked or too soft. Perform the check by squeezing up and down the rubber belt and hoses.
  • Engine oil should be dark brown or black with no grit. If the dipstick has water droplets on it, grey or foamy oil, then there may be serious issue with a cracked engine block or blown gasket.
  • Transmission fluid should be pinkish, not brown with no metallic particles on the dipstick. It should smell like oil, not burnt. Automatic Transmission fluid must be tested with the engine warmed up.  
  • Brake and power-steering fluids should be within the marked safe levels.
  • Radiator coolant should been greenish or orange, not a milky or rusty color. Also check the rubber hose connecting the radiator to the plastic reservoir.

 5. Check Under the Car

  • If you can get under the car, check for oil leaks, red or green engine fluid leaks.
  • Touch the tailpipe, the smudge on your hand should be dry and dark grey. If it is black and greasy, that indicates oil burning and the car producing higher emissions.
  • Check the exhaust system line for rust. It is not uncommon for cars from colder climates to have mufflers fall off due to rust.
  • Welding and fresh undercoating may indicate past structural repairs.
  • On a front wheel drive car, examine the constant velocity joint boots inboard of the front wheels. They are round black-rubber bellows at the end of the axle shafts. If they are split and greasy, this indicates a bad CV joint that is a very expensive repair.

6. Get a Diagnostic from an Independent Mechanic

  • Before you sign off on the buying the car, ask the dealership to lend you the car to have an independent mechanic to check it out. A common practice is to leave your identification with the dealership. If buying from a private seller, offer to follow the seller to the mechanic for inspection.
  • Diagnostic jobs are approximately $100 depending on the mechanic. Using the diagnostic repair, you are in a better position to negotiate the price of the car.

Protect Yourself from Lemon Cars

The bottom line is, cars are a big life investment and fighting for your rights can be complicated.  Make sure you get everything in writing and keep all of the documents from the deal.  If something doesn’t make sense, have the dealership explain it.  If you think you are being taken advantage of or if the car is having problems that just don’t seem right for a car you just bought, contact a lawyer because you may be able to do something about it.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, please email me at David@KasellLawFirm.com or call (718) 404-6668. I look forward to working with you!

This material may be viewed as attorney advertising and does not constitute legal advice. This information does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the author. This article strictly represents the personal views of the author on the date it was written and such views are subject to change without notice. 

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