The Official Red Flags of Pre-Owned Vehicle Buying

Buying a pre-owned vehicle is a tough task.  Knowing when to run can save you 1000’s in repair bills, loss of use and value.  We have researched and interviewed some of the most knowledgeable car people in the automotive industry and narrowed down a list of the 5 biggest red flags we call the “Official Red Flags” of pre-owned vehicle buying. Some of these may seem obvious but you would be surprised how many consumers get duped every year and talked out of these red flags.

  1. The vehicle is listed for sale but hasn’t been through the reconditioning process by the dealership yet… If you find a vehicle listed online and the dealer says they still have “some items” to take care, there is likely more than just “SOME ITEMS”… This red flag landed as the #1 flag in the industry.  Dealers are known for doing this with their trade-ins that they are trying to maximize profits on.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard “Fix only what the customer asks”… Imagine all the things that can be swept under the floor mat on this one.
  2. Another one to very skeptical about is the private seller, selling for a “friend”.  This more often than not means that the “seller’ is curbstoners which means they buy and sell (flipping of cars) and present themselves as “friends” allowing them to not be at fault after the car is sold… Always do business with the person who owns the car.  This is for your safety.  There are however, companies such as iAuto Agent which provide services much like that of a realtor for the housing market but for cars… These are often go-between companies which help facilitate the sale of the vehicle and make it a bit easier on everyone.  Just use caution and do your research.  All vehicles listed for sale by iAuto Agent go through a TDT 450+ Checkpoint Inspection before being listed for sale.
  3. Here is another one we hear a lot. “It was just serviced” or “just came out of the shop”.  This is practically admitting that there had been something wrong with the car and likely the only thing repaired was the bare minimum at the cheapest rate.  You might even be surprised that the seller cannot produce a receipt for the work done.
  4. You might be surprised to also hear “the title is in the mail” or “the State has the title”.  While this is very possible you NEVER want to purchase a vehicle directly from a private seller without having them sign the title in front of you.  Also, do yourself some due diligence and check their Government Issued ID, anyone can sign John Doe.  Dealerships and representing companies often have a vehicle power of attorney to facilitate the titling and paperwork for the seller.  Examine this information carefully and know what you are signing.
  5. The last Big Red Flag that I want to point out is if you show up to look at a vehicle for sale and it is dirty, has a tarp on it, been sitting in the barn or you cannot see the complete vehicle (unless you know you are buying it for parts) you should run.  Obviously the seller is not serious about selling it at a fair price or is hoping you won’t see something about the car.

These are not the end all be all of Red Flags in the automobile industry… These are just some of the big mistakes we hear a lot…  I like to tell people to trust their initial gut instinct and if your gut feels strange about the purchase you need to RUN.  Your honest best protection of knowing what you are buying is a mobile vehicle inspector that will go with you to look at the vehicle or go for you… It changes the seller’s attitude around and you also get to know the vehicle’s condition before you sink your money into it.