How to Spot a Lemon: A Guide to Avoiding Used Car Problems

In an ideal world, nobody would buy a used car that turns out to be a lemon, but unfortunately, it happens sometimes. Sellers might try to hide damage, mess with the odometer, or cover up accidents. 

To keep yourself safe, follow the top 5 tips for buying a used car in this article. If you use these tips when you’re looking for your next used car in Mumbai, Pune and other major cities on CARS24, you can steer clear of lemons and the headaches they bring.

What is a Lemon Car?

A lemon is a term used for a car that’s not good and might be unsafe to drive. It usually has a big problem covered by the warranty that affects how safe, valuable, or useful the car is. 

For example, problems with the transmission, suspension, engine, or brakes could make a car a lemon. Usually, to be called a lemon, the manufacturer has to try and fail to fix the problem within a certain amount of time or tries.

Lemon Law Basics

So you suspect you might have a lemon car — what now? Whether you can get a refund or replacement depends on a few things, like the laws in your state. Start by checking them at your local Department of Motor Vehicles, Attorney General’s office, or online at the Better Business Bureau.

Also, see if your car’s make and model has had any reported defects, service bulletins, or recalls at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Other factors affecting your eligibility for lemon law coverage include:

  1. Type of car: This includes whether it’s leased, new, used, or a specialty vehicle like an RV or motorcycle.
  1. Timeline and mileage: You can only file a complaint within a certain time after buying, and under a maximum mileage. These limits vary by state and whether the car is new or used.
  1. Repair costs and attempts: If the problem can be fixed easily or within a few tries, you might not qualify for lemon law protection.

If you’re not eligible under state laws, see if you qualify under the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, which lets you sue for warranty breaches. You could also talk to a lawyer about your options.

Tips for Spotting A Lemon Car

Below given is the curated list of the tips for spotting a lemon car:

Tip 1: Check a Dealership Reputation

To steer clear of buying a lemon, start by only considering well-known used car dealerships. You can check how good a dealership is by reading reviews on websites like Google, Yelp, and DealerRater. If you’re looking at cars sold by individuals in local ads, you won’t have online reviews to rely on, so make sure to pay extra attention to the other tips we’ll talk about next.

Tip 2: Get a Vehicle History Report

If you’re looking at cars sold by private owners, it’s a great sign if they’re willing to give you a copy of the car’s history report. CARFAX is a popular one that’s easy to understand. If the owner won’t give you a copy, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. 

If you’re really interested in the car, it might be worth paying for the report yourself. It can tell you if the car has had any title issues, odometer problems, been in a big accident, or if its airbags deployed, along with some service history. But getting reports for lots of cars could get expensive. 

If you’re shopping at a dealership, most of them will have their own subscription to a history report service and should give you a free copy for each car. If a dealership won’t give you one for free, that’s a big warning sign.

Tip 3: Conduct your Own Initial Inspection 

You don’t need to be a car expert to glance at a used car and decide if it’s worth a closer look. Just check for signs of wear and tear and see if it seems like the previous owner(s) took good care of it.

Tip 4: Take it for a Test Drive

If you want to understand a used car better, you should take it for a test drive. This is your chance not only to see if it feels right for you, but also to notice anything that seems strange or wrong.

Tip 5: Get it Tested by a Trusted Mechanic

If you’re not a car expert, it’s a good idea to have a trusted mechanic inspect the used car thoroughly. It might cost you around $100 to $200 or more, but it’s worth it for such an important purchase. A mechanic can find any problems you might miss and give you a clear picture of the car’s condition.


Spotting a lemon when buying a used car is crucial to avoid potential headaches and financial losses. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you can navigate the used car market with confidence and make a wise purchasing decision. 

Remember to thoroughly inspect the vehicle, review its history, and consider seeking the expertise of a trusted mechanic. With diligence and attention to detail, you can steer clear of problematic used cars and find a reliable vehicle that meets your needs.


Q1: What does “Lemon History reported” mean?

A1: “Lemon history reported” indicates that the car had some major problems in the past that the dealer couldn’t fix, even after trying multiple times. So, the manufacturer bought back the car from the owner. When the dealer sells the car again, they have to tell buyers about its lemon history. If the dealer doesn’t share this information, it could be considered fraud.

Q2: Are Lemon Buybacks worth it?

A2: Getting a car that was once called a lemon but has been fixed and improved could turn out to be a good deal, but it comes with risks. Some lemon law buybacks might be fine to drive and give you a nearly new car for less money, while others could end up needing lots of repairs.

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