How to Avoid Buying a Lemon

For many people who aren’t mechanically-inclined, buying a car can be a stressful experience. There are many factors to consider. Often people worry that they will be taken advantage of and over-charged or sold a car that is a lemon, or a vehicle that may have unknown defects or a previous history of mechanical failure.

However, if car buyer exercises a little caution and does their research, they should be able to avoid buying a lemon. There are a few simple tests even the most un-mechanically inclined person can perform to get an idea of what kind of condition a car is in. When buying a used car, one of the most important factors is maintenance. How well the previous owner maintained the car can have a huge difference.

First, check the radiator. It should be clearly marked. Muddy brown liquid suggests an additive has been added to the coolant to seal a leak. Check the oil level. Low oil levels could indicate a leak or that the vehicle has been improperly maintained. Smell the oil. If the oil smells burnt, that could indicate engine failure or that the engine has been run with no oil for long periods of time. Check the transmission fluid. A bright pinkish red colored fluid will indicate a healthy or well-maintained transmission. A brownish color may indicate that it’s time for a change or that the transmission has been improperly maintained.

Despite precautions, on rare occasions a seemingly good car can turn out to be a lemon after all. Fortunately, because of federal and state lemon laws, someone who has been sold a lemon has the protection of federal and state rights. Even if the car was knowingly purchased in “as is” condition, that does not void a buyer’s rights under applicable lemon laws. Because these laws vary from state to state, it is wise to consult with a licensed lawyer practicing in the state.

Lawrence C. Noble, Attorney at Law ( is a Ventura County based trial practice focused on meeting the needs of business, real estate, bankruptcy and entertainment clients in Ventura, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Counties. Billings Farnsworth is a freelance writer.

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