For many people, including me, buying a used car has never been easy.

Although these cars come with a host of benefits, from saving you a lot of money, to potentially avoiding new car fees, most of us don’t realise that the secondhand car market is rife with peril. I recommend that you go slow and look, if you want to get it right.

In my experience, buying a trouble-free car has nothing to do with luck – you must know how to determine the reliability of the vehicle and how to spot the potential car problems that the seller is not willing to disclose to you. To help you get value for your money, I came up with the following red flags that I use every time I go out looking for a second-hand car. Here are some of my suggestions:

1. Get the car history report

Did you know that a car history report is an inexpensive document that contains invaluable information about the car you are interested in buying? Yes, that’s right.

But where and how can you get that report? Two main sources provide this information – AutoCheck and Fax. I use the reports to know how many people have used the car, how frequent it needed repair and whether it has been involved in any accident before.

Dealers are not legally needed to disclose if the vehicle has a lemon title, but sometimes it is important for the dealer to tell us whether the car is a manufacturer buyback or not. Either way, it is up to you to do your due diligence to check into that car’s history report.

So, if you unknowingly buy a lemon car, you might be out of luck since it was your responsibility to check in the first place. Most people are looking for a fuel efficient, reliable car that doesn’t cost an arm and leg, and fears are well placed when it comes to buying a used car these days.

2. Repair history of the vehicle

With my mechanical experience, I have learned that the car’s repair history is another strong indicator to determine whether the vehicle is a lemon or not.

Usually, I take a close look at the repair history to note any recurring repairs. Moreover, I check whether the car’s issues are wear and tear or more serious problems, not to mention if those repairs were required even when the car was new.

If you find any recurring issues, I recommend you avoid that car.

It is also worth checking whether the repairs are superficial or serious. Serious problems are more difficult to handle, but if the car has superficial problems, it might not give you headaches as such.

Finally, check if regular car maintenance has been performed before you can invest your hard-earned money in it.

3. Pre-purchase inspection

Sometimes you may decide to buy a car that has been labeled a lemon if you think that the issues are not too worrisome, or perhaps you are convinced beyond doubt that it was mislabeled as one. However, you should get a pre-purchase inspection if you don’t want to get it wrong.

A certified mechanic can tell why the car was titled a lemon and whether it’s issues are fixable or not. However, if the seller doesn’t want to hire an independent mechanic, I advise that you move to the next seller – the car probably has reoccurring issues that the seller doesn’t want you to know.

4. Check the exterior

I always begin by walking around the car, checking for dents, mismatched body panels, chipped windows, chipped paint and broken lamp housings.

Also, I can use a small magnet to test for the presence of body filler – if I see that the magnet does not stick on the car panel, the car may have filler under the paint, which hints that it may be a lemon car. Inconsistent welds around doors, trunk or hood also indicate repairs.

At the end of the day, it is your time and money, and so you should not rush into making a decision that you will live to regret. The tips highlighted in this article are just an eye opener, but there is much to be done before investing your money on a used car. Beware of “scammers!”

  • Do all that and more and it’s still not a guarantee that you haven’t bought a lemon. There’s so many hidden issues you just can’t pick up


  • With a second hand car or caravan you should receive a road worthiness certificate if you pay $1000.00 or more. I know that applies in SA. Also if a car has been listed as a repairable write off it is not supposed to be sold to anybody else. I know somebody bought one privately which had 2 previous owners not knowing it has been in an accident when they bought it. When it was traded in at a car dealer a checked done by the dealer revealed it was a repairable write off. As contracts had already been signed the dealer agreed to take the car. I don’t know what they did with it. They probably sold it as “parts only” or to a wrecker


  • Very useful tips to take on board when looking for a new car. So many cars can look good to the naked eye, but hide a whole lot of issues under the bonnet! Thanks for the informative article, I will print this and keep for when we are next in the market for a new car


  • useful tips, thanks a lot!


  • I hate shopping for cars. This article had some good tips to make it a bit easier. Thanks :)


  • Great article. Never new that you could get a car’s history. New about the pre-purchase inspection and thoroughly check internal and external. All very useful information.


  • a really great article – and with the additional advice in the comments it really is informative and helpful


  • also run a vin check to make sure the car for sale, is legit and not stolen or made of “different”” parts


  • I hate buying cars! I get hubby to research it


  • When you have your prospective vehicle inspected make sure all the bolts are checked including those that hold your seats. A person I know paid for an inspection which included motor compression….but did not check bolts underneath. Some holding the front passenger’s seat had been broken off.
    If somebody put magnets OR anything on the paintwork of my car I would be very upset. I take pride in the appearance of my car and do not want its paint surface scratched.


  • Absolutely right. My husband bought a Fiat Marea once. It was so difficult and expensive to get new pieces!


  • Wise tips.
    I would add that when you buy a used car, make sure it’s not European made in the case parts need to be ordered from oversees and the costs for that will be sky-rocketing high.


  • I’m sure these tips will help a lot of people. When my husband bought his last car, he preferred to buy it new though. In the past he had so many problems with used cars, that he didn’t want to risk anymore.


  • A tip in the royal auto mag this month is to make sure the car has a service history and that the odometer matches up with the kms in the service book as dealers are getting cheeky and turning back the kms by hacking the cars computer.


  • Great article. We followed all four tips when we bought our second hand cars and did not have any unexpected problems.


Post a comment
Like Facebook page

LIKE MoM on Facebook

Please enter your comment below
Would you like to include a photo?
No picture uploaded yet.
Please wait to see your image preview here before hitting the submit button.
Your MoM account

Lost your password?

Enter your email and a password below to post your comment and join MoM:

You May Like


Looks like this may be blocked by you browser or content filtering.

↥ Back to top

Thanks For Your Star Rating!

Would you like to add a written rating or just a star rating?

Write A Rating Just A Star Rating