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Lemon Car Tips: How to Avoid Buying a Lemon

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Lemon Car Tips: How to Avoid Buying a Lemon

Dale Benton
May 31, 2013


The origin of the term 'lemon car' has been subject to a great of speculation, but we all know what it means so what does it matter? What is of more interest to most is how to avoid buying a lemon. Most of it is no more than common sense, but here are a few tips to help you along the way.

When buying a car, even a lemon car, it is important that you check it out thoroughly. A 2013 car that looks like new could have been rebuilt after an accident and be a poorer buy than the 2010 vehicle that looks dirty, but has in fact been well maintained. Looks can deceive. So don't let yourself be deceived when buying a new car.

Check the Exterior

If there is one tip on how to avoid buying a lemon car, it is to check the vehicle both inside and out. First the exterior check. Here is what you should look for:

• Check the sides and underbody for signs of welding. This could indicate that the vehicle has been badly damaged and repaired by welding on new parts - or even that the front and rear of two different cars have been joined together.

• Also check for slight differences in paint color. This can also indicate repairs made from old car parts.

• Check the doors, trunk and hood. Do they fit correctly, is the paintwork and texture all the same, and are there any gaps between the panels?

• Check behind plates and fenders. These hidden areas are often missed in amateur respray jobs, and you may find a different color there. That indicates that the car has been resprayed, and if any original areas are of different colors, then you might have a lemon on your hands.

• Make sure there is no bubbling on the paintwork. This is a sure indication of underlying rust that may have been painted over without being treated.

Check Under the Hood

• Look at the underside of the hood itself. Any cracking or wrinkling of the paintwork could indicate a collision in the past. Check for corrosion while you are there.

• Look for oil, water or leaks of any other fluids. Also check the ground beneath the car for drips. Never buy a car that is leaking fluids.

• Remove the oil dipstick, clean it, and then dip the oil. Is it clean or black? Is the oil at a good level? If not, and you eventually buy the car, make sure the oil and filter are changed before you pay. You can avoid buying a lemon car if you make the seller fix everything you find wrong before you part with your cash.

Check the Vehicle Interior

• A good way to avoid buying a lemon car is to lift all the rugs, mats and carpets in the car and check the metal. It is difficult to hide underbody welding, and many will try to cover it with carpets. Some people don't even paint it, because most buyers never check under the carpets. If you do, they just shrug and wait for the next mug to come along.

• Check that all the instruments and accessories work. Check all the lights, and make sure all the warning lights illuminate when the ignition is switched on.

• Make sure the ignition and steering column are in good condition - a stolen car might display signs of damage.

• Check the mileage: if the car looks older than the mileage seems to show on the odometer, then be suspicious. Sometimes it's necessary to walk away to avoid buying a lemon car. Seeking an explanation from the seller might allow them to persuade you to buy it. It might be OK - but unless you are 100% certain, don't take the chance.

Paperwork and VIN Checks

Ask to see the paperwork and ownership papers. Make sure all the services have been carried out, and that an old car has passed state tests.

Take a note of the VIN number. The VIN might be located on the driver's side of the dash by the windshield or on the door jamb. Ask - if the driver can't immediately show the VIN plate, then be suspicious. Take the VIN number so you can carry out an online report on the vehicle. Go to the Carfax website and pay the fee for the check. It's worth it to avoid buying a lemon. Autocheck will also do it. The report will tell you if the vehicle has been involved in an accident or stolen - you will get its full history. No VIN then no purchase!

If everything checks out OK, you should then get a mechanic friend to carry out another final check of the vehicle and go for a test drive with you - or pay for a vehicle check and test drive to be done for you. Again, it's worth the cost for the peace of mind you will have. Follow the above advice and can be as sure as you can be that you're a not buying a lemon car


If you want to avoid buying a lemon car, buy it from Benton Nissan. Each of our used cars has been carefully checked over and comes with our free 10 year/120,000 mile Powertrain Warraty. Check out the Benton Nissan Google+ page for more information on our cars.

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