Red flags to look out when buying a new car

Updated Oct 22, 2021 | Same topic: Best Advice for Car Buyers

Browsing through the used car market can be a complicated and risky task, but we at want to help you find things to look out for when buying!

These days, buying a used car is not the worst thing. Although car companies and financial institutions now offer flexible payment plans to make car buying easier, sometimes your budget still seems insufficient for a brand-new car. What is a car buyer supposed to do then? For starters, they can check out the trusted dealerships at

Used Toyota Corolla Altis on the road

Buying a used car may give you all the savings and enjoyment without the high cost

If you grew up loving a particular car when you were in high school or college and never had the opportunity to own it back then, you can now make that dream a reality! Just remember that there are some things to look out for when buying a used car.

Some car resellers try to hide these possible red flags. Keep in mind that these red flags don’t have to be deal-breakers, but can be negotiation tools for you to lower the price of the car.

1. Uneven/unmatched paint job

Ever get the feeling that some cars don’t look quite right? They might have immaculate bodywork and are smooth all around, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? You get this silver car, but your eyes can tell that not all silver surfaces are the same. Then you realize that the silver on the door panels doesn’t match the silver on the rest of the car.

Mismatched paint on Chevrolet

Mismatched paint might mean the car underwent body repair

If the car runs just fine, that shouldn’t be a bad thing, but just be aware that the mismatched paint may be a sign that the car went through collision repair at one point in its life. If the seller claims that the car does not have such a history, you might want to double-think that claim.

What you can do is politely point out the imperfection and find out what that was about. If the seller becomes defensive and aggressive, it’s best to walk away, but most of the time they would admit about the incident or the reason. You can use this as a bargaining tool to lower the price.

>>> Check out: Every motorist need to know these things before deciding on a paint job.

2. Missing clips and screws

There is nothing wrong with a rebuilt engine, replaced parts, or upgraded modifications to a vehicle. What is disturbing and a possible deal-breaker is the quality of the work done. Check if there are clips or screws in the engine bay. If the seller says that the car did not undergo any major repairs or replacements but you find missing clips, it’s best to keep walking.

Missing Clips on Engine Bay

Watch out for missing clips as they mean that parts of the engine may have been rebuilt or repaired

As I said earlier, there is nothing wrong with repairs, but a mechanic’s quality of work can be verified if they replaced the missing clips. It’s a simple thing to replace, so if they cheaped out on those parts, it is shuddering to think of what other parts they saved money on.

3. Check for leaks

Pop the hood, and we are certain that the engine bay should be in immaculate condition. Any car reseller worth their salt should be able to detail their engine bay before selling it. This can help you by checking for leaks anywhere inside.

Places of interest and the most common problem points would be the power steering reservoir connected to the steering rack. Also check the valve cover for oil leaks, simply replacing the valve gasket should solve this.

Leaking Valve Cover Gasket

Watch out for leaks in the car's engine as they can mean calamity

Leaks may be a telling sign of calamity for cars as they should be able to maintain a certain compression rate. Leaks can also be a sign of damage within the system. These are repairable and shouldn’t be a problem for you but make sure you point these things out to maybe slash the price a bit if it wasn’t indicated.

>>> Also check: Engine oil myths and what to do when oil leaks happen.

4. Smelly interiors

You might be able to find a car with perfect bodywork, but one thing that is difficult to hide is the smell. As they say, the nose knows. Even if the previous owner changed their floor mats and detailed the car perfectly, if the car went through a serious flood in its history you should still be able to smell that remarkable whiff that seems to have come from old socks.

Water damage to a car will be a definite deal-breaker because flooding causes damage to the engine and electrical components, and might cause short circuits and fires.

Smelly car interior

A car's interior smell can give you clues as to its history

This, of course, will be the worst-case scenario, but remember that buying a used car will have its certain caveats and flood damage to a vehicle is a severe deal-breaker and smelling the car is your best bet, as no amount of car fresheners can ever hide that.

>>> FYI: Tips & Tricks to get rid of bad smell in your car.

5. Rough idling

Car resellers would be more than happy to offer a test-drive of their vehicles, but before you drive off and test the car, start the car, stay inside with the headlights and AC on, and let it idle for around 15 to 30 minutes or so. Cars, in general, can run perfectly fine if you step on the accelerator but idling a car stresses the engine out along with the electrical parts and I believe this is the best kind of stress test apart from driving it full throttle.

Car Maintaining Good Idling

Testing a car's idling can speak volumes about its condition

This way, you will be able to test the car’s alternator, AC compressor, and test the cooling fans as well as the various air sensors. If after a few minutes you start to sense the car struggle while idling, there must be something awry with the mass airflow, oxygen, and idling sensors.

All of these parts are easily replaceable but can be used as bargaining chips. If however, the car starts to overheat while idling and with the AC off, the auxiliary fan must not be turning on, or worse, there may be a leak in the head gasket. So before you go, just chill in the car for a while, it can tell a lot about the engine that way.

>>> Tips for you: How to fix a rough idle or stalling car?

6. Open highway demeanor

After checking the car’s idling capabilities, take the car out for a test drive and since you’ve idled the car enough already you can go ahead and rip it on the highway. Step on the throttle and try to test within the car’s limits using each gear.

By doing so you can test whether the transmission’s gears are tight and in condition. If you are in gear while stepping on the accelerator and notice slipping, that is a sign that car needs repairs or major replacements.

Mitsubiishi Galant on the Highway

Test a car within its limits to find out all its hidden quirks

Driving the car within its limits also tests the seals in the car’s engine, if you find some leaks on the gasket that means that would also require replacements. This is also a great way to test the car’s alignment and engine mounts. If the car shudders or veers a certain direction you can take note of these when you start negotiating for the price.

Another thing to keep in mind is the deed of sale of motor vehicle. If you bought a car without this document, there would be no proof that the transaction happened. 

Mazda 323

Choosing the right used car may be a daunting task, but when done right can be rewarding has one of the most extensive used car listings in the country from our verified and trusted dealerships, so you can rest assured that all the cars listed are verified and inspected, but keeping these things in mind will give you an edge.

You can either walk away and look for other cars or use these as bargaining chips to lower the price. Make sure to follow us for more tips and hacks and get the most out of your car purchase.

Roy Robles

Roy Robles


Sleek, Sexy, Athletic and Fast. These are words that were never used to describe our resident claustrophobe Roy Robles. After spending 10 years counting other people's cash in banks, he is just happy to be at Catch his articles everyday and make sure to honk if you see him.

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