11 Red Flags for Used Vehicles


Make sure you’re buying a reliable pre-owned vehicle–not a fortune in repair and service costs.

11 Red Flags for Used Vehicles

1. Ugly on the outside? Probably on the inside too.

If a vehicle has glaring problems at first look–dents, rust, cracks–it probably hasn’t been looked over by a service team. What does that mean? There may be even worse problems going on in the engine that no one knows about. Get someone to look under the hood before you make that final purchase.

2. Speaking of rust…

A little bit of rust isn’t bad, unless you’re someone who needs their vehicle to look brand new. In that case, factor in what it’s going to cost you to replace the body panels. For everyone else: how much rust is on that car? If it’s so bad that you would have to replace sections of the frame, you may want to walk away.

3. It’s not quite the right shade of red.

Is the paint mismatched anywhere on the vehicle? That’s a good indication the car has been in an accident. This may or may not be a dealbreaker–an accident is not a death sentence for the vehicle. But if the seller is trying to hide the fact that there was an incident, that’s not a good sign.

4. That dashboard is lit like a Christmas tree.

When you take a test drive, are all the lights on the dashboard lit up? Sure, the Check Engine light may have been triggered by an errant sensor or the gas cap. It may also indicate a major issue with the vehicle. Get it checked out before you decide to take on the vehicle and any repair costs attached.

5. It’s too young to be that damaged.

How old is that vehicle? Is it five years old or younger? And if so, has the transmission and engine been replaced? Start asking questions. Those components are supposed to last a long time. A replacement means the vehicle is a bad one or the driver has abused the vehicle before handing it off to you.

6. Is the seller the worst backseat driver?

The test drive is when you put the vehicle through its paces, especially if it’s a pre-owned vehicle. You should take it through high speeds, merging lanes and whatever type of roads you deal with on a daily basis. If the seller wants to control the test drive and keep you from really testing the vehicle, that’s a bad sign.

7. And do they provide service records?

The vehicle you choose comes with a history and you should know the details. Ask the seller for service records to ensure the vehicle received proper, regular maintenance. If the seller is reluctant or outright refuses to provide the records, that may have something to hide.

8. How low is too low?

If you’re purchasing a used vehicle that means price is important to you. When you’re on a budget, a vehicle for dirt cheap can seem like a blessing. But if the price is way, way too good to be true, it likely is. A low, low, low price may mean the seller wants to get rid of the vehicle fast and that means high service costs for you.

9.Do the fees seem a little…much?

Does the vehicle have an itemized list of costs? Take a look at it. All vehicle transactions are going to include fees to cover tax, DMV business and other costs of business. But if you start to see additional mark-ups without explanation, ask some questions. If the seller doesn’t have a good reason for the increase, they could be trying to rob you.

10.Manufacturers issue recalls for a reason.

Has the manufacturer issued any recalls for that make and model? And has the seller had them taken care of? They issue recalls to keep drivers and those around them safe. If they haven’t been taken care of then you could be a danger on the road till it’s fixed.

11.A few other things to look out for…

Do you see condensation behind the radio face or gauge cluster? Are the carpets mismatched? Those are signs the car may have been flooded. Check the windows: different labels can indicate someone broke into the car. Then you’ll want to make sure nothing vital was stripped out of the vehicle. Are the tires different sizes or models? That could lead to the alignment being off.


Getting a pre-owned vehicle can be a great way to get a new car for a price well-suited to your budget. Just keep all these things in mind to ensure you’re not also buying a fortune in repair costs or worse–another new vehicle in three months.