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Seven ways to avoid a lemon
Be cautious when buying a used car or truck.

When buying a used car, choose a model from the most reliable brands and one that will age gracefully over time. However, any vehicle can become a clunker if it has been neglected or has sustained damage from an accident or flood damage. Consumer Reports advises the following to help used-car buyers from landing a lemon.

1. Check for signs of collision repair. Some include mismatched body panels or doors, hoods, or trunks that don't close properly. Bring a magnet to test for the presence of body filler; if it doesn't stick well to a steel panel, there may be filler under the paint and can indicate a repair.

2. Beware of flood damage. A mouldy or mildew smell, discoloured carpeting or intermittent electrical problems may be signs.

3. Check the fluids. Wet spots in the engine compartment or under the vehicle can indicate leaking oils or fluids. Check the oil and transmission fluids for proper texture and colour.

4. Read the smoke signals. Blue smoke from the tailpipe indicates that the engine may be burning oil. Billowing white smoke indicates water in the combustion chamber, usually because of a blown head gasket, damaged cylinder head or even a cracked block - all expensive repairs.

5. Step on the gas. Knocks and pings while accelerating can reflect an overheating engine. If the engine revs excessively before the car accelerates, it may indicate a misadjusted or worn-out clutch or damaged automatic transmission.

6. Check the vehicle's history. A vehicle history report from CarFax ( or Experian Automotive ( can alert a buyer to possible odometer fraud; reveal past fire, flood, and accident damage. Unfortunately, these services don't catch everything, so it's no guarantee that a car is problem-free.

7. Get it inspected. Have any car thoroughly inspected by a qualified mechanic. Check for any recalls related to the car and verify whether the work was done.

For more information on used cars, check out Consumer Reports Annual Auto issue available on newsstands March 6th or wherever magazines are sold and at

Posted Mar. 18, 2012. ©



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