how do you know if a car is a lemon

11 Crucial Signs That Your Car is a Lemon

When you have a tight budget, buying a used car can save you money and even allow you to get your dream car at a cheaper rate. However, studies show that up 75% of used cars will start showing signs of trouble within the first month. So, how do you know if a car is a lemon before making a buying decision?

The good news is that you can avoid buying a lemon by having a certified mechanic inspect the car before you sign any documents.

However, if you have already bought the car and it is already starting to show signs of trouble, here are some crucial signs that show that your car is a lemon.

How To Know If Your Car Is A Lemon

Buying a car can be a difficult and stressful experience, especially if you are on a tight budget. You want to make sure that you are getting a quality car that will not break down on you within the first few months. Here are some signs that show that your car is a lemon:

buying a car that is a lemon

1.  Strong or Bad Odors

If you bought a car and it has strong, unpleasant odors, chances are, you bought a lemon. Smells like burning rubber, smoke, and leaking oil, are a sure indicator that your car is defective and may cost more in repairs than it did to purchase.

Sometimes the odor might be difficult to pinpoint, but a well-functioning car should not have any funny smells. If you smell anything unusual, it is usually a sign that there might be something serious going on under the hood. Be sure to investigate any unusual smells and what they mean.

2.  Uneven Tire Tread

Over 664 fatalities on American roads are caused by tire-related collisions. Uneven or worn tire tread is a sure indicator that the car was poorly maintained by the previous owner. Ideally, tires should be rotated regularly and switched during winter.

Uneven tire tread might also mean that you are facing costly front-end alignments in the future. No matter what year the car was manufactured, buying one with worn tire treads or different brands and sizes is a sure way to acquire a lemon.

If the tires do not match, you will also have a hard time driving. Beware of cupped and worn-down tires as they could be an indicator that the brakes and steering are defective.

3.  Lock and Window Problems

Most modern manufacturers produce cars with automatic door and window locks. If the car you bought should have powered windows and locks, but they do not work, you might have a lemon on your hands.

When buying a car, roll the windows all the way down. Some get stuck halfway and do not roll back up. Windows and locks are powered by the vehicle’s electrical system. If your car has window and lock problems, it is a sign that the car’s electrical system may need expensive repairs.

4.  Worn Out Interior

If you bought a used car, chances are the interior is a little worn with use. However, if there are significant cracks, rips, tears, stains, or even burn marks from cigarettes, the car is a lemon. Some of the damage may be easy enough to fix, but car upholstery can be quite costly.

Check for significant discoloration or water marks as these indicate that the car might have been flooded.

On the other hand, if you bought a secondhand with brand new upholstery, it might not have been a great deal. Brand new upholstery on a second-hand car usually indicates that the previous owner was trying to hide something.

5.  Shaky Suspension

When you switch on the car and it gives off knocking and banging noises, this could be a sign that the car has suspension problems. One sure way to check the suspension is to push down the fenders and quickly let go. The car should bounce once or twice. Repeated rebounds mean the car’s shock absorbers need replacement.

Another indicator of serious suspension problems is a vibrating steering column. If you are driving and feel vibrating sensations on the steering wheel, get ready for a rough ride both physically and financially.

car inspection

6.  Manipulated Odometer

When shopping for a new car, most buyers look for one with lower mileage as an indicator that it has not been used much. Cars with higher mileage have traveled more and suffer increased wear and tear.

However, some crafty dealers commit odometer fraud by manipulating it to show low mileage even though the car has significant exterior wear and tear. It is important to check the mileage with caution and have a certified mechanic go over it for confirmation.

If the car’s exterior and the mileage do not match, you may have bought a lemon.

7.  Mismatching Paint or Sloppy Paint Job

Check the exterior of your car closely and look for any signs of poor paintwork, mismatching colors, and rust. A lemon will usually have one or more of these, meaning the previous owner did not maintain it properly.

When a car is involved in an accident and repaired by a professional, it is almost impossible to tell whether the bodywork was damaged. However, professional painters are expensive. If the previous owner did not want to pay full price, the result is a shoddy paint job that compromises the entire structure of the car.

8.  Generous Offers

A dealer selling a lemon will often have incredible deals that are too good to be true. Any dealership that has trouble getting rid of cars that are too old or too damaged often offers them on sale.

Like any business, dealers must move their inventory even if it is unappealing. The best way to move a bad car is to give a great bargain. If you bought your car at an interest rate that is lower than the current market value, you may have bought a lemon that the dealer was desperate to offload.

car sales

9.  Leaks

While not every leak is a sign of trouble, watch out for:

●     Antifreeze leaking from the radiator

●     Transmission fluid leaking from the vehicle’s center

●     Oil leaking from the engine

●     Brake fluid leaking underneath the vehicle

●     Power steering fluid leaking from the front of the vehicle

If you leave your car parked and find wet spots or oily patches underneath it, it is usually a sign that its liquids are not properly sealed. Check the engine compartment for wet spots or signs of a spraying liquid. These leaks could lead to expensive repairs down the line.

10.  No Car History

Car owners must provide you with the car’s history records which are usually kept on file. These records include any major flooding incidents or collisions, tire rotations, oil changes, and other regular maintenance practices.

However, if you bought a car but did not get its history records, this shows that the previous owner did not maintain the car properly.

Poor maintenance practices often lead to negative consequences such as increased deterioration, poor fuel efficiency, increased likelihood of a collision due to poor control, and more.

11.  Insurance Problems

If your insurance provider is balking at offering you coverage for your second-hand car, you can be almost certain that it is a lemon. Another sign is if you have to pay very high premiums for an old model.

Insurance providers may detect problems in the car’s history and manufacturing defects that make it high risk. We recommend shopping for insurance before buying a car, but if you have already completed the purchase process, be prepared to pay high premiums for the increased risk.

What Can You Do If Your Car Is a Lemon?

There are usually no assurances with second-hand cars. You could find yourself with a lemon on your hands even after doing comprehensive checks with a certified mechanic.

Thankfully, there are lemon laws in different states that protect you as a buyer. You may have to give the seller a chance to repair the car but, if the issues are persistent, you may be eligible for a refund or a replacement.

Consult an attorney to find out more about your protections under the Federal Lemon Law Act and find out how you can recover your loss.


If your car has most or all of these signs, it could be a sure sign that it is a lemon. While buying a used car saves you money, you might end up paying more in repair and replacement costs.

Consult a lemon car expert to find out whether your car is a lemon and what you can do about it.

Made it to the end? Here are other articles you might find helpful:

10 Things to Check Before Buying a Used Car

6 Tips For Buying Your First Car

Can You Get Insurance on a Salvage Title Car?

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