Buying a new car is always exciting. Whether you're shopping for something more fun, , roomy, or stylish, it's easy to get caught up in a fantasy of the miles you'll spend behind the wheel.
But don't let that excitement get ahead of you. Used cars (and even new ones) can have sneaky problems that are hard to detect. Especially with , you need to be diligent and have an experienced mechanic complete a .
Not convinced? Read these horror stories from real people who bought a car that turned out far from perfect.
"I purchased a used truck from a reputable dealership through an online ad. I specifically told the salesman that I did not want a vehicle with , as the truck I had my eye on was from Pennsylvania – a notorious area for winter road salt damage. He sent several photos showing the underside of the vehicle, assuring me there was no rust. The pictures looked good, so I wired the money and had the truck shipped to me. Upon arrival, I found that he must have taken the pictures from a different truck. Every brake and fuel line needed to be replaced, with an anticipated cost of over $4,000!
Never buy a vehicle from a without seeing it personally or going through an inspector you can trust."
-David P., Astor, FL
"I bought a that had no history of accidents from a used car lot. The car started , so I took it to a dealership for a warranty repair. I was told the was cracked – and that the front bumper that had been replaced, the was damaged, the frame was bent, other evidence that the car had been in a crash. What's more, the car had been driven without any coolant, causing it to and damage the engine.
Since all these problems were caused by an accident, the warranty was suddenly void, and I had to pay to fix everything. Take it from me: a 'clean' isn't a substitute for an inspection."
-Abby W., Arlington, VA
"I went to an , and when I arrived everyone was bidding on a pristine-looking . I figured the car looked clean, and people were raising their bids, so it had to be good. Long story short, I won the auction. After completing the paperwork and getting the title and keys I had the car towed home. But when I got in and turned the key, . I opened the hood to see what I could find, and the problem was instantly clear. There was nothing under the hood – no engine, no transmission, no radiator, no battery. I ed the auction, who explained that the car was sold as-is.
Fortunately, soon after I met a guy with the same car that had a good engine but a bad body. We transferred in the drivetrain, and the car ran great. It could have been a lot worse."
-Eric P., Philadelphia, PA
"I went to a used dealership by myself to see what I could find. After spotting a Honda I liked, the salesperson let me take it for a test drive. Everything seemed fine so I decided to buy – they were letting it go cheap. I proudly drove home and invited my girlfriend for a spin in my new whip. As I opened the passenger door for her, it nearly fell off! Turns out the car had been in a and the dealership had basically glued the door in place. Despite my anger, all the salesperson would do was laugh at my misfortune."
-Brandon G., Winthrop, MA
"I bought an with a clean title from a used car dealership. Everything worked fine for a few weeks, but one day the came on, so I took it to an Audi garage to check it out. Turns out the piston rings had failed, which is apparently a common issue, so Audi said they would replace the rings and other faulty engine parts.
Well, when they tore apart the engine, they discovered that it was from a different year, and had yellow marks on it. Since the engine wasn't original Audi changed their minds, and I had to sell the car for a loss – it was still and when I sold it."
-John B., Hartford, CT
"I bought a brand new car that was a lemon from the start. On the day I took it home from the dealership I noticed . I called the salesperson, who asked if I could live with it until the first oil change. I said yes, and at 3,500 miles I brought it back. They couldn't detect any issues, so they told me to keep driving. At 7,000 miles they still didn't believe me, so I took one of their technicians for a drive, and finally, he felt it. They kept the car for a few days and replaced some parts, telling me I should be all set – I wasn't.
Eventually they sent a representative from the manufacturer. I took her for a ride, and she felt the problem, too. After some deliberation they said they would get me a new car, but that I would owe them for the mileage I added. I reminded them that I reported it on day one, which was documented, so they reversed. Then they told me there wasn't a comparable vehicle in the region, so I'd have to pay the difference for a newer model. I said it wasn't my problem they couldn't fix the defective product I bought. Finally, I got a brand new replacement at no cost, which I had for a few years and enjoyed. But it goes to show that not all lemons are used cars."
-Mark K., Norwich, CT
"My family used this one local mechanic for repairs, and we really trusted him. We'd bought used cars from him before and never had any issues, so I felt safe in buying from him again. Only a month after picking up an from him, the went – just after the warranty expired. Still, he replaced the part without charging labor, which I thought was a nice gesture. Not long after that, the intake manifold broke, costing me over $1,000 to replace. A week later, the died, costing me another $600. At that point I'd spent $2,000 in repairs, and was paying over $200 a month for the car. I went back to the mechanic and he let me return the car no problem. What does that tell you?"
-Troy W., Emmaus, PA
"This lemon put my life at risk. As crazy as it sounds, the first – and only – problem I had with it was the airbags going off without warning while I was driving down the freeway. I'd bought the car with full assurance from a used car dealership, and they were completely unhelpful despite the dangerous situation it put me in. A
history of the model showed that there were several recalls on it for , but I was still unable to get my money back. I sold the car for scrap as soon as I could. There was no way I was getting back in that death trap."
-Stacy A., Grand Terrace, CA
"I needed a car badly, so I bought a for $2,500 without thinking. Soon all kinds of weird problems with the started popping up. I took it to a shop, and after a quick inspection they told me that due to the massive amount of mechanical problems they didn't feel comfortable working on my car –it was just too far gone. I had the same luck at all the other shops I tried. A month later I had no choice but to sell it to a junkyard for $250."
-Casaundra W, Douglasville, GA
"My very first car was also my first lemon. I bought a AE86 , the legendary sports coupe I'd dreamed about for years. Of course, not long after I took it home, it started having problem after problem. I'd repair something, then a few weeks later, I'd have to repair something else. Eventually the whole had to be rebuilt. I must have spent over $5,000 on a car I paid $3,500 for. In the end, though, all those repairs turned out great – today my AE86 runs like a charm and I love to drive it! Prospective buyers make offers all the time, but I'm not letting go of it any time soon."
-Andy C., Las Vegas, NV