Be Wary of These Car History Red Flags

Buying a used car is a smart choice. New cars depreciate quite a bit once they leave the lot, but so many of them are built to last, that you'll save yourself quite a bit of money buying used, and you won't sacrifice a hint of quality. That is, if you shop smart.

If you're looking for a used car, you should follow a few simple steps before even taking a test drive. There are red flags you should look for when doing your research to ensure that you're not buying something that is going to need a lot of extra maintenance or repair.

First Steps

Once you obtain the VIN for a vehicle you like, do everything you can to find out about its history. Your first step should be to order a Carfax report. It costs about $40, but it's well worth the money if you find that the vehicle has been in an accident or something else serious.

When looking at the report, there are some things that should catch your attention. A salvage history or a severe accident may be a glaring red flag, but there are some other things that you can look for that may not be as obvious but could still indicate a problem.

Frequent Changes in Ownership

Your Carfax report will show the previous ownership of the vehicle in question. If you see that the car has had very frequent changes in ownership and that it's happened three, four, or even five times in a row, you may be dealing with a hot potato.

This is a car that has a challenging or expensive repair issue that may not be critical now but will be down the road, and when the owner finds out about it, they don't want to deal with it. They can get away with selling it because it's not apparent enough to show up on a test drive but will present itself after you've had the car for a few months.

Emissions Testing

Make sure the car you're looking at has passed an emissions test recently. Most metropolitan areas require some sort of emissions test, but a lot of used cars don't pass. It's illegal for a dealer to sell you a car without the current emissions record, but if you're buying from an individual, make sure you get it.

If there are multiple failed tests on the Carfax report or the most recent test is from over a year ago, ask about it. If you buy it and can't pass an emissions test, you can get it licensed or insured, meaning you just spent a lot of money for nothing.

Alternatively, a lot of rural areas don't require emissions testing, and you can get used cars at a significant discount if you live in a place that where emissions testing isn't needed.

Wet and Coastal Areas

Pay attention to where the car has lived. Information like this can tell you a lot about the way it's been driven and how much wear and tear may be on it. Even if the Carfax report is clean and the car looks great in pictures or in person, you still could have to worry about things like rust.

If it's been driven on snowy streets or near the beach, salt has already done a number on the undercarriage, especially if it wasn't cleaned regularly. You may also see a flag from Carfax that a car was registered in an area with substantial flooding or hurricanes.

Question the Seller

It's sad, but there are dishonest people out there. A lot of scammers sell cars through Craigslist and other local marketplaces. Study the Carfax history and then call the seller and ask some basic questions about how long they've owned it and what kind of maintenance they've done.

Questions like this are easy enough to ask and won't annoy the seller or make them suspicious. The answers they give should match the information they have, and if it doesn't, move on. If they pass the first round of questioning, have some more detailed questions prepared when you meet in person.

Check Long-Term Maintenance

All cars should be serviced regularly, so check the seller's maintenance records to make sure you're not buying something that hasn't been taken care of. Not every dealership or used car shop works with Carfax to update reports, so the Carfax history may or may not have accurate records.

Make sure you get specifics from the seller on where the work was done so you can visit the shop to verify it. You wouldn't want the seller to be passing off hefty maintenance requirements to you because it will cost you more in the long run and just isn't worth it.

You can't go wrong buying used SUVs and trucks from Southwest Motors. They do a thorough inspection of all used vehicles, provide up-to-date records, and can offer you the personal service that many dealerships can't. Get into the perfect used car today.


Southwest Motors

2600 W Us Hwy 50
Directions Pueblo, CO 81008

  • Sales: (719) 545-5700

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