Unfortunately, you can’t just look at a used vehicle and tell whether it’s a lemon: you have to go through some steps. There are three different types of vehicles that can be called “lemons.”
1) A manufacturer buyback. This type of lemon would have had a major problem that the manufacturer of the vehicle acknowledged and then subsequently bought back from the original purchaser.
The best way to figure out if a car is a “manufacturer buyback” would be to purchase a vehicle history report. Carfax is an excellent resource for finding out a vehicle’s history, and so is a company called Autocheck. If a car has been bought back by the manufacturer it will most likely show up on a CarFax or Autocheck vehicle history report. While it is true that in most states a vehicle seller is required by law to tell a buyer if they’re buying a “manufacturer buyback” (cough, lemon) sellers don’t always disclose this information. Also, if you buy a vehicle history report you’ll see how many times a car has been bought and traded-in. Beware of cars that have been traded-in and sold multiple times – that’s an indication that something is wrong with the car.
2) Cars with the same, constant problem. If you’ve had a car that always had the same, constant problem that you could never get fixed, that’s also known as a “lemon.”
The problem that won’t go away can be anything: a bad air conditioner, a constantly failing transmission, you name it. Usually, this problem is specific to the individual vehicle, and unfortunately these things are hard to discover. In an ideal world, you would be able to look at the vehicle’s previous service records, but that’s not always possible. The best way to make sure you don’t end up with this type of lemon would be to get the car professionally inspected before you buy.
3) Cars with major design flaws. These are cars that have lots of problems because they were poorly designed in the first place.
The third type of lemon is a vehicle that has a major design flaw. Since design flaws are specific to certain vehicles and certain model years, and because they usually rear their heads after 2-3 years, Consumer Reports is a great resource for finding vehicles with design flaws. You can also call a local dealership’s service department for the make you’re considering – for example, if you’re looking at a 2004 Corvette, call your local Chevrolet dealer and ask the service department if they have any tips about the 2004 Vette’. If you’re nice and respect their time, they’ll probably give you some good tips. Also, you can check out blogs, forums, and other Internet resources.
While it’s important to use caution to keep from buying a lemon, the good news is that “lemons” are pretty rare.
As always, take your time when buying a used car. Do your research, get multiple financing quotes, and feel free to contact us with your questions.