These Are Your Car-Buying Red Flags

These Are Your Car-Buying Red Flags

A little rust never hurt anything, did it? Oh, it did?

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Photo: PookieFugglestein, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ah, the art of buying used cars. It’s arcane, complicated, and often difficult to find a good buy on sites like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, and even harder at used car lots. The trick, it seems, is to watch for red flags — like the red flags we asked you all about yesterday. Let’s take a look at your answers, shall we?

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Smoking in the Boys’ Room

Smoking in the Boys’ Room

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Photo: © 2005 by Tomasz Sienicki [user: tsca, mail: tomasz.sienicki at gmail.com], CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Smokers cars. If you smoked in your car go ahead and cut the KBB value in half then subtract another $2k.

And yes, ever person who doesn’t smoke can tell your car still smells like cigarettes over the smell of 100x little trees black ice air fresheners.

“Oh, you can get it out with an ozone bomb—” No, you can’t. It’s just like that now.

Submitted by: Derel1cte

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Suspiciously Low Mileage

Suspiciously Low Mileage

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Photo: Georg Wiora Dr. Schorsch, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

May sound counterintuitive, but low mileage in old cars. It can mean the previous owner either only drove in traffic jams (hence the low mileage for old age), in short spurts (and hence the engine never quite operated under its optimal temperature range) or the odometer was tampered with.

Particularly old cars with particularly low mileage have also likely sat for extended periods of time, meaning they’re subject to all sorts of dry rot issues.

Submitted by: edu-petrolhead

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Dealer Shenanigans

Dealer Shenanigans

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Photo: order_242 from Chile, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

For somebody who likes cars, I haven’t owned a lot of them because I hate the buying process—dealing with dealers. They do it multiple times a day. I do it once or twice a decade. Who do you think navigates this better? My current vehicles are 8 and 15-years old.

The purchasing process is somewhat better than it used to be since the internet made a lot of info available. But it’s also even worse since COVID because so many dealers are sticking more over-list-price charges to the bottom line. I know the dealer has to make money, but I never walk away from the dealer experience certain that I got a fair deal.

When I bought the 15-year-old vehicle, the dealer asked me if I’d buy it today for 40% off. Of course I would, because I could turn around and sell it back to him at a profit. When I test drove it, it had floor mats. When I picked it up, they were missing. If I can, I try to short-circuit the process through contacts. Seven years ago, I bought the now 8-year-old vehicle because I knew the dealer’s mom. I still had to talk to the finance guy, it took hours in the dealer to pick it up, the cover for the CUV’s cargo area wasn’t there, so they took one off another used car and gave me that.

New and used cars alike fall victim to nefarious dealer goings-on. Keep an eye out for shady dealers, and avoid them at all costs.

Submitted by: sgtyukon

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The Mess Inside

The Mess Inside

The Mess Inside

A car with a filthy interior.

If the seller is so lazy, so utterly lacking in salesmanship that he can’t even bother to dress up how the vehicle looks, what’s that statement make about the rest of its condition that isn’t blatantly obvious? That’s right: awful, so walk off.

If someone can’t even take care of their interior, who knows what kind of care they’ve taken of the rest of the car?

Submitted by: America’s Masterpiece: the ‘69 Dodge Charger

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No Consideration for Oxidation

No Consideration for Oxidation

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Photo: Hannes Grobe, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

[Photo of iron oxide]

This red.

As a lifelong browser of Datsun Z ads, I know you don’t always need to see that shade of red to see rust. Look for bubbles in the paint, too.

Submitted by: GodDamnTheseElectricSexPants

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Simple Fixes

Simple Fixes

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Photo: Abdullah Alqadi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When a car just needs a simple, easy repair to make it perfect, but the seller can’t be bothered to do it.

“A/C just needs a recharge!” If it just needed a recharge, why not just go to Autozone and but a $40 recharge kit and sell a car with working A/C for way more money?

You’re not fooling me, pal.

I’ll admit to getting stars in my eyes over this more times than I really should’ve. “Oh, it just needs a MAF spacer removed—” No it doesn’t. It’s never just that simple.

Submitted by: Unacceptably Dry Scones

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Just the Facts

Just the Facts

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Photo: 根川孝太郎, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Getting basic facts wrong is a surefire way to quickly lose my attention. My favorites are the BMWs advertised with V6 engines.

When I was a kid, before I really knew the differences between various engine layouts, I used to refer to the V6 engines in BMWs. Irked the hell out of my dad.

Submitted by: Stephen

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Buy Here, Get Played Here

Buy Here, Get Played Here

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Photo: Alan Tennyson, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

If it has a rebuilt/salvage title, I wont even consider it but also I wont deal with anything that is sold by a “Used Car dealer”. So its a regular dealer or CarMax for me when its a used car.

Private party for older/enthusiast cars.

Private party often seem to be the way to go, as long as you can find reliable sellers. Luckily, you’re halfway through a list of tips to find them.

Submitted by: PLindsey

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Flip Cars, But Not in the Fast and the Furious Way

Flip Cars, But Not in the Fast and the Furious Way

Not this

For me, cars sold by mechanics.

Yeah yeah... there are honest mechanics out there. But in my first hand experience, when a mechanic dumps a car, it usually has some big issues that are either expensive or difficult to fix... so they will fix it up just enough to make it sellable and do things to hide issues... such as manipulating tire pressures to mask alignment issues, as one example I personally encountered.

I’d honestly rather buy a car off of a regular person who knows little about cars and is getting rid of their old car because they bought a new/newer car.

Some people do lovingly restore cars, bringing them back from the brink for joy and profit. Others load a car up with Bondo and ship it out to raigslist. Aim for the former.

Submitted by: Manwich - now Keto-Friendly

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Recovering Rentals

Recovering Rentals

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Photo: AutoRentals, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

If the car was at one point a rental car. the great David Freiburger once said “the fastest car in the world is a rental car” no once cares when it’s a rental, they are beaten, abused, and spend nights in cold showers.

No one’s ever lovingly cared for a rental car. No one. They’re abused their whole lives, and you want to buy a used one?

Submitted by: Cheese302

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Car Ads

Lies, Damned Lies, and Car Ads

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Photo: Niagara Motor Car Company, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The car doesn’t match the ad. If you can’t tell that hub caps aren’t alloy wheels, what else are you misrepresenting/hiding in what you’re trying to sell?

“Oh yeah, this is totally the top trim. It’s just, uh. Debadged. Yeah, that’s it.”

Submitted by: Midlife Miata Driver

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Restricted Airspace

Restricted Airspace

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Photo: Eric DaSilva

Being a big guy, if I don’t fit, it’s a hard “no”. In most cases, it’s usually the sunroof that kills the headroom. And, no, I don’t want to recline the seat 45° just to fit.

I know your pain, friend.

Submitted by: JimmyZZZZZZZ

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Mommy Don’t Know Daddy’s Getting Hot

Mommy Don’t Know Daddy’s Getting Hot

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Photo: Nenad Bumbic, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Cars sold by body shops. They will claim that “oh, it’s a customer’s car just needed a head gasket.” When it is actually built up of the remains of 4-5 totaled cars that is more Johnny Cash Cadillac than a real car.

Plus, why are they selling cars and candles? Just a weird business model all around.

Submitted by: hoser68

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What Crimes Are You Hiding?

What Crimes Are You Hiding?

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Photo: James086, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

An obviously cleaned engine always makes me suspicious. If it was too dirty to sell without a steam clean or something, then it might deserve a red flag. Seeing a normal amount of dirt and grim in the engine compartment is better than sparkling clean (naturally clean is fine).

Honestly, I have no issues with sellers who generally keep their engine bays clean. The issue comes when they’ve panic-cleaned the bay before taking listing photos, just to hide leaks.

Submitted by: fredschwartz

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More Descriptors, More Fun

More Descriptors, More Fun

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Photo: JOHN LLOYD from Concrete, Washington, United States, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Show and tell. If your listings have lots of pictures and details, if you’re open about the history, and knowledgeable about features, pros, and cons, I’m interested.

For me, the amount of stuff you can show/tell me beforehand is directly proportional to the distance I’m willing to go to make the deal. Which is why my last two vehicles were purchased at dealers 2-3 hours away. Local dealers think three pictures and a one-sentence description of features is enough, but that’s because they’re all ran by 60-year-old white men two-fingering their way through an email full of weird capitalization errors and too many exclamation points. It’s not a 1x1 classified ad in the local tribune, Jim.

Also, can we talk for a second about what dealers choose to put as their selling points in online listings? You’ll see one that says “BLUETOOTH AND BACKUP CAMERA!” for a 2018 vehicle even though every newish vehicle has those vehicles. But then you have to dig through pictures or run the VIN to find out if it has actual good-to-know features like remote start, heated seats, CarPlay, etc.

Those callouts from dealers are always hilarious. It’s like yelling that the car has seats, or a floor. Yeah, bud, we expect that.

Submitted by: dbeach84

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