What Kind of Cars You Should Avoid Buying

We’ve put together a list of common problems that those really cheap, really good-looking used cars could have, how to spot them, and how to avoid them.

What Kind of Cars You Should Avoid Buying

There are a lot of cars on the market that are a lot like a pig wearing lipstick. They look great, appear to run well, and are really, really, affordable. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? Wrong. Most of those deals are waving big red flags telling you to run away quickly.

First things first, get the VIN number or Vehicle Identification Number of any car you are going to test drive. You can ask the seller to provide it. They should be totally upfront with you and supply it right away. Any seller that doesn’t want to give you the VIN number of a car they are selling (whether you’re at a dealer or working with a private seller) is someone you don’t want to deal with.

Once you have the VIN, you will need to pull a vehicle history report. This is the best way to ensure that you don’t get caught up in a bad deal. We recently did a story on the things you need to look for when you pull the vehicle history report. You can use a service like CarFax or AutoCheck or you can search through the list of approved services over at the National Motor Vehicle Information System. When you get the report look for everything from the number of owners to any airbag deployments and potential odometer rollbacks. Any one of those things can be a red flag right off the bat. If you want to understand more about how to read a vehicle history report check out our story, here.

We here at Instamotor want to take the confusion out of buying a used car so we’ve put together a list of common problems that those really cheap, really good-looking cars could have, how to spot them, and how to avoid them.

Salvage Title

So after flipping through what feels like millions of imperfect cars you find your dream car. Its got all the bells and whistles you want and a price that’s far more in your price range than others. It looks great, too! Perfect exterior, interior and the ad says that it runs great. The only issue, is that it has a salvage title. Big warning sign.

Essentially a salvage title means that the car was previously totaled. It may look perfect but it will likely have some serious problems down the road. Want to know more about why you shouldn’t buy a salvage title? Check out our story here.

Basically, unless you really want to do the work yourself or spend a ton of money at the mechanic, avoid salvage titled vehicles.

Flooded or Water Damaged Cars

Say you go to check out what seems to be the perfect car. Its clean, looks good, doesn’t have a salvage title and priced for a steal. But when you arrive for a test drive, there’s an odd smell…like something…wet.

Welcome to your first water damaged car. A lot of times these kinds of cars can flood (no pun intended) the market after a major hurricane or flooding in one part of the country.

Just because you live in a high and dry area doesn’t mean you are safe from flooded cars in your market. Many times a unscrupulous dealer or buyer will pick up a flooded car to try and flip it for a profit. The truth is that once a car has been flooded it is pretty much ruined. Water gets into everything from electronics to the upholstery and 99% of the time it simply wont be the same. Even after extensive repairs water damage can still wreak havoc on a car’s insides.

Want to know more about how to avoid flood-damaged cars? Read our article here. The best policy in situations like this is to simply walk away.

Commercial Fleet Vehicles

Fleet vehicles can come into the used market in a variety of ways. Some are sold by major companies after they’ve been used, others are owned by a bank or financial institution as part of a lease portfolio, and still others are actually part of a dealer’s inventory and being sold off.

While commercial fleet vehicles aren’t necessarily bad buys, they can be problematic. Sure they get regular maintenance but they do tend to be driven harder than other kinds of vehicles. That is often reflected in their pricing which is generally as much as 10% below other used vehicles of the same make , model and year.

The other thing is that often times, fleet vehicles are for sale for a reason. Maybe a municipality has decided that they aren’t worth the cost of maintaining them anymore. Maybe they have too many miles on the odometer. Either way you could be buying a problematic car.

On occasion dealers put up their demonstration cars for sale. These are usually a pretty good deal as they are low mileage and have been used in short errands and test drives. As Autobytel points out though, dealers may try and get you to believe that a dealer demonstrator is not a used vehicle because it still has the manufacturers warranty and it has never been titled. That’s not the case though. In fact, the law considers it to be a used vehicle.

To tell if a vehicle is a commercial fleet vehicle check the title. If it lists a company rather than an individual as the owner, the vehicle is part of a fleet and could pose problems. Proceed with caution.

Rental Vehicles

Rental vehicles can be a good buy… sometimes. They can be far cheaper than a privately owned used car and often times rental companies have a no haggling policy which makes it easy to know exactly what you will pay for a vehicle.

Additionally, rental fleets often maintain their vehicles in regularly scheduled intervals. That means that any vehicle you buy off the lot is usually, mechanically speaking, in pretty good shape.

The problem with rental cars arises because they can and often are abused by the people renting them. That means that they can have lots of dings and dents (especially around the trunk area) and have some small niggling issues that may make them annoying to own. They get used and often abused, so if you are considering buying a rental fleet vehicle know what you are getting into. Do your due diligence before getting into one of these cars.

Lemon History

This is also known as a Dealer Buyback. When a new car has problems and a dealer has to buy it back under lemon law they can and often do turn it around and resell it as a used car. Cars get bought back by dealers for one of two reasons. First they fall under Lemon Law. Lemon law covers any car that has a substantial defect that is covered under warranty and occurs within a set amount of time after purchase or lease. The second reason that a dealer buys back a car is because someone with buyer’s remorse returned it. In the second case you can often get a great deal. In the first, things can get dicey.

Lemon Law cars and buyback cars get a branded title—which can hurt you if you decide to resell it down the road—particularly if you decide to sell it within 6 months of buying it. As Doug DeMuro over at Jalopnik points out “get ready to explain why you have a branded title that says your car is a lemon and you're selling it after only a few months of ownership. Trust me when I say that the only explanation [a buyer] will believe is: The ticking noise told me to stab my children with a potato peeler, and now I need to raise money for bail.”

Proceed with caution.

In any of these cases you are dealing with a vehicle with a branded title which will make it harder to sell in the long run. Many of these kinds of vehicles can be avoided if you do your research, get a complete mechanical inspection from a certified mechanic, and pull the vehicle history report before you sign on the dotted line.

Sure you may be able to save a bunch of money at first glance, but a deeper dive will reveal that you could be biting off more than you can chew. For more on all things automotive check back here at the Instamotor blog on the regular.

Buying Tips
The Instamotor TeamThe Instamotor Team

Not your typical used car salesman. Our team is here to provide honest and transparent advice about car buying and selling.