How to Tell if a Car Is a Lemon: The Ultimate Guide

You bought a used car to travel back and forth from home to work. You’re feeling good about it. You may even test how far it can go by taking it on a weekend road trip.

That is until you broke down on the side of the road. The vehicle is making terrible noises and putting out smoke. No matter how hard you try, you can’t get it to crank up again.

You most likely bought a lemon. It happens to the best of us. It can be hard to tell if a car is a lemon if you don’t know what to look for.

We can help with that. Don’t go shopping for another vehicle until you read this guide.

The Ad Is All Wrong

There’s a certain way that an ad should be constructed. It has to deliver all the information about the vehicle that you need to be confident about your purchase. If it seems too vague, that’s a red flag.

It could mean that the car has a lot of problems, and the seller doesn’t want to disclose them because it would make it harder to sell. Most ads will also include the make and model of the vehicle, along with any awesome features it has.

Not all sellers list their reasoning for selling in their ad, but it’s nice information to know. It can tell you if the car needs any work done or if it’s been in an accident lately.

Read the Buyer’s Guide

According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you’re buying a used vehicle from a dealership, they have to include a buyer’s guide with it.

This guide will tell you if the dealer is selling the car as-is or if it comes with a warranty. It will also tell you about all of the electrical and mechanical problems with the car.

If the dealer doesn’t give you a guide, and you buy a bad car from them, you can get on and talk to a lemon law attorney.

The Previous Owner Smoked

Cigarette smoke is a smell that tends to stick to everything. Once it’s in a vehicle, it’s almost impossible to get out. So, if the previous owner was a smoker, you may want to opt-out of buying the car.

When you’re driving around with the windows down, you may not notice the smell that much, but once you roll the windows up, it will be enough to make you gag.

Check Over the Exterior

There are a few things that you want to check for when you’re looking over the exterior of a vehicle. The first is mismatched paint and parts. This will tell you if the car’s been through any extensive repairs.

Run a magnet along the outside of the car. If there are spots that it doesn’t stick to, that means a filler might have been used to cover up rust spots and dents.

Lastly, nobody wants a car with a sloppy paint job. That means you’ll have to pay someone to paint over the faulty work, which costs extra money.

Look at the Tires

When you’re looking over the outside of the car, pay careful attention to the tires. They should all be the same brand, size, and tread pattern. This will help keep you stable while you’re driving down the road.

Another thing to look for is wear. If the tires look like they’re falling apart, that means the previous owner put the vehicle through its paces. Chances are, you’re going to have to replace the tires soon.

Cupped tires are another problem entirely. That tells you that there’s something wrong with the stirring or brakes. Driving the vehicle could prove dangerous if this is the case.


Before you start filling out the paperwork for a car that you like, get the CARFAX. It will give you the car’s complete history. If it’s been in an accident before, CARFAX will know about it.

It will also tell you about previous fire or flood damage, and you can get the vehicle’s odometer info, as well. It’s pretty thorough.

Worn Interior

You shouldn’t stop your inspection with the outside of the car. You’ve got to look at the inside of it too. Discoloration on the seats could mean that the car’s suffered flood damage of some kind.

Small cracks and tears are easy to cover up. If the interior’s suffered from significant damage, however, that’s a sign that you should abandon the vehicle.

Visit a Mechanic

You’re not going to be able to spot lemon car signs by simply taking a peek under a vehicle’s hood. You won’t know what to check for, but a mechanic will.

By paying about 100 dollars, you can get a complete diagnostic on a car that you’re curious about buying. The dealer shouldn’t hesitate in allowing you to do this. If they seem a little nervous, you should be suspicious.

How to Tell a Car Is a Lemon Before You Buy It

It can be hard to tell if a car is a lemon when you’re observing it on a lot. The signs of extensive repairs and modifications aren’t always obvious.

If you’re not sure what to look for, you may end up getting ripped off. Don’t let that happen to you! Stay aware, and if all else fails, have an experienced mechanic take a look before you commit to a vehicle purchase.

If you’re looking for more tips that will help you avoid buying a faulty car, we’ve got you covered. Visit the Auto section of our blog for additional articles like this one.

Hemant Kumar
Hemant Kumar is a project manager at Tridindia with more than nine years of commendable experience in writing about LMS, translation, and IT. His unmatched talent and passion for digital marketing gave him the opportunity to work as a multi-tasking project manager at TridIndia’s sister company, Link Building Corp. Today, he contributes to the world by imparting knowledge on SEO, link building and internet marketing etc., that helps business owners grow their online business.