Buying a used car can be the best financial decision you've ever made or one of the worst, depending on the car's condition. Here are Jalopnik readers' choices for the ten biggest used-car warning signs.
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Photo Credit: holbox/Shutterstock
10.) Worn Or Mismatched Tires
Suggested By: CobraJoe
Why it shuts down the sale: A quick check of the tires on a car for sale speaks volumes about the way it's been treated and maintained. No car should ever be sold with worn tires. (On the other hand, brand-new tires can be a warning sign if not explained.) And if you've looked for a used car for long enough, eventually you'll anticipate the day when you find a car wearing four different brands of tires (many bonus negative points if one or more is the incorrect size), at which point you will immediately leave the poor thing to a different fate.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
9.) Sloppy Bodywork And Paint
Suggested By: Fighting Polish
Why it shuts down the sale: Sure, accidents happen. So does rust. Be very careful with something that's needed bodywork, though. Especially if that work has been done to less than impressive standards. You're getting into something with a greatly compromised structure with all that may follow and probably a reduced lifespan, never mind what it'll do to resale when someone else figures it out.
Flip side: For certain cars, well-done panel fitting is a bonus. A Porsche 356 with new floors is a Porsche 356 with one less major upcoming expense.
Photo Credit: Mark Allen Cross
8.) Suspect Repairs
Suggested By: $kaycog
Why it shuts down the sale: So why is that new bolt down there in that old, messy engine bay? Why does this headlight look so much newer than the other one? Why does the owner hold his breath every time I turn right? KYEO. If something doesn't look right, talk it up. If the seller gets defensive or evasive, it's time to call it off.
Photo Credit: Jerry H.
7.) Car Already Warmed Up
Suggested By: HeelToe Do-See-Do
Why it shuts down the sale: A cold startup will reveal many sins: a grumpy starter, worn components that make noise when cold but smooth out when warm, issues with fuel delivery. If you go for a test drive in a car that's been brought up to normal operating temperature, you're missing out on plenty of important information.
Photo Credit: Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock
6.) Poorly-Written Ads
Suggested By: DasWauto - Disregard politics, acquire cars
Why it shuts down the sale: If you're going to sell a car, show some respect to your prospective customers. Use punctuation, lose the too-cool jargon, have some knowledge, spare us the hype. We're not insisting on the Queen's English here, but put some effort into writing a respectable car ad. If your ad makes you look like an idiot, we'll have serious reservations about the car.
This applies to used-cars sales pros every bit as much as it does to Craigslist first-timers.
5.) The Check-Engine Light Acts Funny
Suggested By: HawaiianKong
Why it shuts down the sale: We all know that the check-engine light doesn't really give a driver enough details, but it does provide some information. Most significantly, it should illuminate for a few seconds during startup. This is kind of a subtle one, but keep an eye on that CEL; if it doesn't go on, it's probably because someone wants to keep it off so as to keep someone from seeing it on all the time.
Photo Credit: Michael Rosenstein
4.) Bad Or Amateurish Modifications
Suggested By: Xander Crews, Proud of BOXER
Why it shuts down the sale: Cars are designed by professional engineers, which is great. Many aftermarket parts are designed by knowledgeable enthusiasts, which is fine. Many modifications are homemade, and can range from inspired to scarily unsafe. Cast a critical eye towards fake vents and backyard suspension tuning. Systems that work together suffer together if something isn't right.
Photo Credit: smokenyal, stanceworks
3.) Oil In The Radiator Or Coolant In The Oil
Suggested By: mrjason
Why it shuts down the sale: Of all of the possible checks you can run on a car, this is one of the simplest and most telling. A blend of oil and coolant — a sort of chocolate-milkshake-looking emulsion — indicates head-gasket issues, head warping, or other major engine problems. Go ahead and drive a hard bargain if you're planning an engine swap anyway, but for most people this should be an instant dealkiller.
Photo Credit: schwartz.mark
2.) Title Issues
Suggested By: dogisbadob
Why it shuts down the sale: Few things should set off mental alarm bells like a seller hemming and hawing about the title. If it's just honestly lost (a rarity), it's proof that the seller is slipshod. It's far more likely that the car was stolen or obtained through otherwise unpleasant means. Recognized proof of ownership is a moral (and legal) absolute. No title, no sale. And know exactly what's going on with a salvage title before you think too much about that.
Also, check the dates on the title. If the car is for sale a short time after it was purchased, that could be a bad sign. Could also be a sign of someone going through hard times, but just keep that in mind.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
1.) Shady Sellers
Suggested By: Gamecat235
Why it shuts down the sale: Purchasing a car is, ultimately, a transaction between two parties. If one of those parties is being disrespectful or sneaky or dumb or downright strange, better to call off the whole operation than suffer lingering consequences. Have enough dignity and confidence to leave a bad scene behind. Sure, if you're in pursuit of something ridiculously rare you might have to deal with unsavory types, but for the most part it's far safer and more reassuring to just let it go.
And except for very rare and well-explained cases anyone who is "selling it for a friend" is pretty much immediately disqualified from consideration. That's called willful negligence. Have a spine.
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