My cousin is married to a former automotive engineer and lifelong “car guy.” She jokingly told us it was the reason she married him in the first place. He simply takes all the stress out of car purchases, both new and used. She said that when her husband tells her that a potentially fun or sporty car (that she’s fallen in love with) is no good, she’ll happily walk away. No one wants to be stuck with a lemon, and her husband clearly knows what he’s talking about. But what about the rest of us?
For frugal car shoppers who are not blessed with their own personal mechanical engineer, it can be a minefield. It’s a bit maddening to try to figure out whether a used car is a great deal or a money pit on wheels. The next time you purchase a used car – either from an individual or a dealer – keep these red flags in mind.
Too Many Owners
One of the best things you can do when shopping for a used car is run a Carfax report. It will show you how many owners the car has had (among other things). This is an important factor. If the car has changed hands a number of times, it implies the vehicle may have gone through multiple levels of car and driving styles. While the current owner might insist they took good car of the car, what about the person before them? Or the one before that? If you’re potentially going to be the third, fourth, or fifth owner, you’ll have no idea how the initial owner treated the vehicle.
You should also do some quick math. If the car is only five years old, but has already had four owners, that’s a red flag. Why are these owners so quick to offload their new purchase? It could be an indication that the car has chronic mechanical problems or simple doesn’t live up to expectations in other ways. If multiple previous owners discarded it within a short time frame, you might want to re-think your interest.