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Buying a car is a straightforward process, especially when you get one from a dealership. However, buying from a dealership isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get a vehicle that functions properly. Cars, even new ones, can have a variety of defects and manufacturing issues that can cause serious car troubles down the line.
At best an unnoticed defect may lead to expensive repairs being needed down the line. And at worst, car problems may make the vehicle unsafe to drive. Of course, no one wants to end up with an unsafe lemon car on their hands. With that in mind, this guide will go over tips that can help lessen your likelihood of buying a problematic car.
The information contained here will help you avoid some of the most common car-related issues you may encounter when buying a vehicle, whether you’re shopping for a new car or a used one. This guide will also cover what you can do if you end up unknowingly buying a troubled vehicle.
Before You Buy
Let’s start with what you should do to avoid issues before purchasing the vehicle.
Research the make and model
You can leverage the magic of the internet to anticipate and avoid potential problems with your car. Before finishing the buy, look up common issues associated with that make and model. You may find that the car in question is known for a specific manufacturing defect that you can try to spot before buying. Or maybe that car was subject to a recall in the past.
You can still buy cars that have been recalled. Just make sure that whatever issue caused the recall has been fixed in the vehicle you’re buying.
If you’re in the market for used cars, it’s a good idea to read reviews and testimonials made by owners who have had that car for a few years. That way, you’ll know which issues are common with the car and what you should be looking for when test driving the car or performing a visual inspection.
Inspect the vehicle
Of course, you should perform your own visual inspection of the car. If you have a mechanic friend and want to save time, you can bring them with you to the car lot. Otherwise, you can scout potential options on your own. If you perform your due diligence, you should have some idea of what problems to look for and what questions to ask, even if you’re not a mechanic yourself.
A careful inspection can help you save time and avoid headaches by crossing problem cars off your list early in the search process.
Perform a test drive
Keep an eye out for performance issues, strange noises, unusual smells, and any other potential signs of trouble when performing a test drive. It’s also a good idea to choose a test drive route that includes some hills and bumps to help uncover issues with the car’s suspension.
Get a professional inspection
Most car dealerships have no issue with buyers wanting to get the car inspected before closing the deal. However, private sellers may be squeamish about letting you drive away without paying. You’ll have to either bring the mechanic to their garage, bring the seller with you to the mechanic’s shop, or put some money down up front as collateral.
In either case, the bottom line is that a pre-purchase professional inspection can usually be arranged. And you should insist on one, especially when buying a used vehicle. Remember: this isn’t just about getting your money’s worth, it’s also a matter of safety.
Car dealerships understand the value of an inspection. Many used car dealers have inspectors who go over every one of their cars looking for issues. When that is the case, if you trust the used car dealer in question, hiring your own professional inspector becomes less of an imperative. It is still smart to have an impartial third party inspect the vehicle, however, given that even honest professionals may fail to notice an issue with the car.
If getting a pre-sale inspection doesn’t work for you, then you should have the car inspected immediately after buying it. Speaking of which, let’s go over what else you can do to avoid problems after buying the vehicle.
After You Buy
No amount of careful inspection can 100% guarantee that there are no issues with a car. For proof of that, look no further than the thousands of cars that need to be recalled every year. Every model that ends up being recalled had to go through all sorts of safety inspections before reaching consumers.
The good news is that while issues can’t be avoided, there are laws in place to protect the investment made by car buyers. All 50 US states have lemon laws in the books, and some states will even offer protection on used car sales. If your car starts to present issues after you purchase it, here’s how you should proceed.
1 – Document the problem
Describe the problem in writing and keep track of how often it happens and when. If possible, try to get photos or videos of the issue, or even just record the sound it makes. Documenting the problem will make it easier to prove that you didn’t cause it yourself. Documentation can also help a mechanic diagnose the cause of the problem later on.
The latter is important, as an issue you notice while driving may be hard to replicate in a controlled setting. And the more clues a mechanic has, the easier it is for them to fix an issue on the first try.
2 – Try to fix it
If the car is still covered under warranty, then it’s time to use it. Contact your dealer or the car’s manufacturer to see how you should proceed in order to have the warranty cover repairing the problem. If using the warranty isn’t an option, you should take the car to a local mechanic.
Whatever option you choose, make sure you keep documenting the process. Take note of when you contacted the manufacturer, what promises they made, how long it took them to repair the vehicle, etc. Being able to build a precise timeline of events will prove invaluable if you end up having to get an attorney involved.
Another thing to keep in mind is that even if the car is still running, it’s best to get the problem looked at sooner rather than later. Undiagnosed car issues may lead to bigger mechanical problems if left unattended. And if you don’t know what’s wrong with the car, it’s hard to ascertain whether or not it is still safe to drive.
Furthermore, both the manufacturer warranty and your state’s lemon laws will only offer you protection for a limited time. In the case of lemon laws, cars are only protected for a fixed amount of years or a set amount of driven miles, depending on your local legislation.
3 – Contact an attorney
If the problem hasn’t been fixed despite repeated attempts or if the manufacturer/dealer won’t honor the terms of your warranty, then it’s time to get an attorney involved. As this Los Angeles lemon law attorney website shows, it’s not uncommon for attorneys in this field to offer free case evaluations, so there is no reason to postpone getting legal assistance.
Keep in mind that lemon laws vary from state to state. Rather than researching on your own, it’s best to sit down with a local attorney to determine if you have a case or not.
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