Buying a Car? Here Are the 10 Absolute Deal Breakers

When shopping for a new or used car, watch out for these costly mistakes.
Last updated March 20, 2023 | By Sandy Baker Edited By Chris Kissell
happy couple standing in car showroom checking out new car

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When you are standing on a car dealership lot, it can be tough to decide whether the vehicle in front of you is worth years of monthly payments.

Being aware of some key deal breakers can help you avoid wasting money on a car you will regret. Following are a few indicators that it is time to look for another option when purchasing a car.

It has a branded title

Rick/Adobe california automobile certificate with car keys on it

Check the title before buying a used car. You can do so at the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System website.

If the title is branded, that is a warning sign that something isn’t typical about the car. It often means the car has experienced significant damage and has been rebuilt.

A branded title also can indicate the odometer was rolled back, which means the mileage on the car may not be accurate.

The key here is to find out what’s wrong and then make a decision about whether the car is a good investment.

It is far outside of your budget

ViDi Studio/Adobe woman is shocked as she looks inside the car

It’s always wise to calculate how much you can afford for your monthly car payment before you arrive at the dealership. 

You don’t want the savvy salesperson to convince you to take on a much larger loan than you can truly afford. Any payment that is far outside of your expected budget is a deal breaker.

Rust seems to be everywhere

OceanProd/Adobe finger pointing rust damaged part of car near the wheels

Rust is an indicator of significant wear and tear on the car. Sometimes rust on the body is a warning sign that there is also rust on the car’s frame, where you can’t see it very well.

If you plan to buy a car with rust damage, have your mechanic check out the car and indicate to you how much money and work it will take to restore the vehicle. In many cases, walking away from the deal is your best bet.

There is a leak under it

v_sot/Adobe car stranded in the middle of road with doors open as oil is leaking out of it

A good car dealership will make sure a vehicle isn’t leaking any fluid before putting it on the lot. But other dealerships aren’t so diligent.

A leak typically means there is a need for repairs. Oil or transmission fluid leaks are indications of a car that lacks maintenance and upkeep.

Sure, you can repair these issues, but that is more money out of your pocket. And a leak that hasn’t been addressed should make you nervous about potential problems with other parts of the car.

You hear a strange sound

pathdoc/Adobe man in formal dressing looking at broken car engine in stress on road

On a test drive, listen for unusual noises. If you hear a knocking sound, a squeal when you turn, or a bit of stuttering when turning the vehicle on, it’s a red flag.

Knocking sounds in particular could mean a concern with the engine, which might cost thousands to fix. And be especially concerned if the salesperson tries to blow off the noise or doesn’t take it as seriously as you do.

The interest rate is too high

dusanpetkovic1/Adobe beautiful woman standing in car showroom reading forms

An interest rate that is too high can result in an auto loan payment that busts your budget.

Drivers with the best credit scores are likely to get the lowest interest rates on car loans. If your credit is bruised, work on healing it by always making on-time payments on your credit cards and any other types of loans you might have. Over time, this should help raise your credit score.

Once your score has improved, you should qualify for better rates. If you cannot wait that long, check with multiple banks, credit unions and other lenders to see if you can get a loan with a better rate.

Pro tip: One way to lower your auto-related costs is to find a great car insurance policy. Shop around and compare quotes to make sure you get the right policy at the best price.

You can’t get the trim package you want

lenblr/Adobe african american man standing in car showroom confused about which car to buy

When buying a new car, you expect to pick out the features and specs, even down to the color. Sometimes, dealerships cannot offer access to the trim package you want or may not have a model with the safety features you desire.

Don’t settle. If the features are important to you, keep looking until you find the car you truly want.

There’s a musty smell or a fragrant one

structuresxx/Adobe woman sitting in car covering her nose due to bad smell coming out of air conditioner

As you sit down behind the wheel, take in a deep breath. If you smell mildew or a musty smell, that could indicate the vehicle has some type of water damage within it.

Water damage can be difficult to pinpoint, and it can lead to electrical issues over time. If the dealership is selling a car loaded with deodorizers or fragrances, that’s a worrisome sign. What are they trying to cover up?

The vehicle history report shows a history of accidents

jetcityimage/Adobe carfax sticker on pre owned car front window with used cars and trucks centre in background

A used car’s vehicle history report can provide insights into what has happened to the vehicle in the past. If the report reveals a history of accidents, that might be a deal breaker.

It’s difficult to restore a car to good condition after a serious accident — or after several wrecks. Why put the safety of your family at risk?

Your mechanic says the problem is major

dusanpetkovic1/Adobe mechanic repairing car in automobile workshop from beneath with another white car at front

It’s often a deal breaker when your mechanic spots a significant problem with the vehicle, like a transmission issue. Even if your mechanic suggests the issue is fixable, you might not want to go down this road.

Not only is the repair likely to be costly, but it is possible the damage will end up being more significant than it appeared at first blush.

If you don’t want to have to repair your new-to-you car, avoid buying a used car with a major problem.

Bottom line

Damir Khabirov/Adobe man focusing on laptop at work with coffee smartphone and glasses on table

Buying a new or used car can be a wise and necessary investment. And with so many vehicles on the market, you don’t have to settle for something below your standards.

Instead, do your research before choosing a car. That way, you increase your odds of getting a good deal that can boost your bank account and leave you with reliable transportation for years to come.

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Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.