Used cars are a great deal … most of the time. But just like any other consumer product, you have to follow the first rule of shopping: “Let the buyer beware.” Here are some hidden dangers that may not be obvious just from looking at a used car.
#5) Missing Safety Features
Most SUVs manufactured after 2002 have electronic stability control, or ESC. This is a safety feature that allows top-heavy cars to stabilize themselves and prevent them from rolling over. One problem: many SUVs from before 2002 don’t have this feature, making them a substantial rollover risk.
Similarly, you may not be able to figure out whether all the car’s standard safety features are in place. For example, if a car was hit and the side airbag was deployed, a mechanic can simply remove it without replacing it. The owner, and the dealer, are under no obligation to tell you that happened: the car is still road worthy, so it can be legally sold. In fact, the dealer may not even know these features are missing, depending on how they got the car and what their inspection requirements are.
#4) Recall Failure
Used car dealers, unfortunately, have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not the cars brought to them have been taken back as part of a recall. They essentially have to take that on faith, although many dealers do check the recall history of the vehicles they buy and make sure they’re in compliance. This can be anything from an annoyance when a plastic clip in the glove box breaks to a serious problem that can total your car out of nowhere. One buyer found himself with a totaled van after it caught fire due to a missed recall.
#3) Hidden Rust
Despite their reputation, used car dealers generally do not want to kill their customers. But even they can be fooled. For example, everyone checks the car for visible rust, but rust can be hidden with a simple layer of undercoat, where it can fester until it becomes a problem. Rust in particular can be hard to spot even for a professional mechanic, especially if a buyer is dedicated enough to hide the problem in order to get rid of the vehicle.
Speaking of hidden dangers, here’s one people don’t think about: mold. Mold is just as likely to grow in your car as it is in your house. Once again, this isn’t anyone’s fault, necessarily: mold can hide pretty much anywhere in a car: under the seats, in the upholstery, deep within the stuffing, inside the carpets…it can damage your health and render a car impossible to sell without replacing the seats.
#1) Counterfeit Parts
The used car market can be cutthroat, and as a result, if a dealer comes across a great deal that seems legitimate, he may get fooled and buy a bad part. Even trained professional mechanics can easily be fooled by a good counterfeit. The problem is that counterfeit parts tend to be unable to tolerate extreme stress and will fail just when you need them most…and the most commonly counterfeited parts include elements of the brakes.
So how do you get a good deal and protect your family (and your auto insurance rates)?
- Look for later model cars: they’re more likely to be in good repair and have intact safety systems.
- If a deal seems too good to be true, assume that it is.
- Any reputable used car dealer will happily let a mechanic you trust inspect the car.
- Trust your gut. If a deal seems bad or the car puts you off somehow, walk away.