It’s a list you’ve seen before: three or five or 10 cars or trucks or SUV’s that should be avoided at all costs by used car shoppers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, other lists and rankings promise to reveal the most reliable vehicles of a given type for your used car consideration.
Humans love lists, and the internet knows it.
But proceed with caution when looking to these for used car advice: many are flawed, most are misleading, and all should be taken with a grain of salt.
But that’s for another story. In this one, I’ll give you my own rendition of a popular internet list: the 5 Used Cars You Should Never Buy. (Yes, we one-upped our original video.)
1. Any Used Car Without Full Service Records
When we’re born, a paper trail begins that follows us around for the rest of our lives. Birth certificates, medical records, and marriage licences track important things about us, and stick with us, forever and ever.
Sadly, we rarely afford the same care to the important documents and records associated with our vehicles. The medical records for our cars often are crumpled, forgotten in the glovebox, accidentally discarded, and forgotten quickly.
This is bad news for the used car shopper.
If the used car you’re considering is still under warranty, you might need these records – all of them – to make a warranty claim. After all, a warranty is a two-way deal that requires owners to maintain their machinery, and be able to prove it with service records if needed.
Also, it’s a good idea to use these records to confirm the used car you’re considering has been consistently and properly cared for throughout its entire life. After all, even the most reliable cars on the road can quickly turn to lemons if they’re improperly cared for.
Use the available service records to prove that that’s the case. And, remember that without full service records available, there’s a great big question mark over the vehicle you’re eyeing up. Due to the uncertainty and potential financial implications, buying a car whose servicing and upkeep is unclear is not advised.
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2. Any Car That’s Been Extensively Modified
There are few certainties in life, but here’s a good one: if the used car you’re buying has ever been “chipped” or “tuned”, any remaining factory powertrain warranty is toast. Dealers have exceedingly clever ways of finding these power-boosting devices, even if they’ve been removed prior to a dealer visit to see why rod #3 punched a grapefruit-sized hole through the cylinder block at 20,000 km-old.
Furthermore, the usage of non-factory parts, electronics, fluids, filters and the like could compromise or void remaining warranty coverage, if it’s still in effect. New car warranties don’t cover wear or damage caused by the use of non-factory equipment – meaning most shoppers are best to steer clear and stick to stock.
Warranty or not, approach modified used vehicles carefully. Millions of drivers around the world enjoy modified cars on the daily – but the average shopper needs to be sure they know what they’re doing.
3. Used Cars with Ultra-Low Miles
That 2012 Lucerne with 8,000 clicks on the dial was probably a Sunday Brunchmobile, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s in great shape.
Specifically, that’s because lower mileage isn’t always better – especially when it means the vehicle has spent a considerable portion of its life parked and unattended.
Like humans, cars benefit from a little bit of regular exercise and movement.
And while that Buick Lucerne won’t get love-handles if it stops doing much moving, other problems are possible.
Parking a car for a long time can see its condition head south faster than Florida-bound retirees at the first sign of winter. While their cars are parked at home for extended periods, rust formation in some components begins to accelerate, tires begin to degrade and crack, gaskets and seals begin to do the same, and even fluids, belts, and the gasoline itself can start to suffer.
Ditto (and especially) the battery.
In fact, that’s why you need to be extra careful when buying a used hybrid or electric car with suspiciously low mileage. Long periods of non-use can damage the traction batteries in these vehicles, if certain precautions aren’t taken before storing it.
Translation? If you’re dead set on that ultra-low-mileage Brunchmobile, consider having it checked over by a professional before you buy, just to be safe.
4. Cars with Unsolved Mysteries
Tonight on Unsolved Mysteries: What Was That Clunk?
But seriously – if something doesn’t feel or sound right on your test drive, it probably isn’t.
On any test drive, be as attentive as possible to the sound and feel of the vehicle, and be on the lookout for anything that seems out of the ordinary. Make the cabin as quiet as possible. Be sure to drive over a variety of surfaces, and at a variety of speeds.
This can help coax out more of the sounds and sensations that tend to give hidden problems away.
Is an unexpected clunk, vibration, or sound something minor, or a great big repair bill waiting to happen? You’ll want to know before you buy. After all, most sellers aren’t trying to pass an imminent repair bill off to you, but some might.
Protect yourself by having the vehicle inspected by a licensed technician at the first sign of trouble. Or, if the unsolved mystery seems a little too mysterious for your liking, just move to another unit.
5. Used Cars from Far, Far Away
O Canada: our home and native land is vast and wide and chock-full of very remote locations. If you’re considering a used car from one of them, proceed with a little extra caution for best results.
Here’s the scoop: very remote locations tend to have fewer (if any) car dealerships or service centres. But cars are happiest when they’re able to visit those service centres on a somewhat-regular basis for a little pampering.
In car speak, that’s timely and continual maintenance, inspections, and tune-ups. Regular dealer visits also keep vehicles healthy by way of software updates and recall work that help things run better, healthier, and more safely.
So, remember to check on those all-important service records, and to remember that a car or truck that’s seen a dealer technician regularly may generate less headaches than one which hasn’t.