Used Car Problems: 6 Most-Common Issues (Explained)

It’s a known fact that cars degrade over time whether or not they’re used.

However, no automobile on earth would break down or deteriorate all at once. Instead, vehicles degrade one component at a time.

You may be considering buying a used car, so let’s find out what problems they’re likely going to have.

Check our list here with the most-common car problems.

1. Alarming Rate of Oil Consumption

Car engines need oil to operate, and it is periodically refilled to get the engines well lubricated.

However, sometimes, the engine oil goes down at a disturbing rate. Although it doesn’t typically occur with brand-new cars, it’s a common problem for low-mileage, used vehicles.

The 2015 Chevrolet Equinox is a good example of a car notorious for burning oil. It is quite severe and occurs on average at about 107,000 miles. Other vehicles that have similar problems are the Subaru Outback, Audi A5, and BMW 7-Series, to mention a few.

Engine oil consumption usually goes up because oil enters the combustion chamber and gets burned up along with the fuel. Drivers may or may not notice excessive smoke from the tailpipe depending on the amount of oil leaking.

So, if your oil doesn’t leak much into the combustion chamber, there may not be noticeable smoke from the tailpipe.

However, oil consumption would be high nonetheless and you’d still need to refill it more frequently than is considered normal.

If you encounter this problem, ensure you get it checked as soon as you can. If you can’t get it done in time, ensure you keep up with refilling the oil or stop driving.

Otherwise, it’ll cause more damage to your engine.

Check also: Used car demographics

2. Underbody and Surface Rust

It’s one of the most common problems with used cars and most people underestimate rust until they experience it themselves.

Unfortunately, if allowed, rust can ruin a car’s structure and its looks.

Some cars known for rust issues include the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Forte, Honda Civic, Ford Fiesta, and Nissan Altima. However, whether or not your prospective vehicle will be rust infested depends on three major factors.

The first factor is where the car was previously driven. For example, if it was driven in a coastal state like California or Washington, it’s more likely to have rust.

That’s because it would’ve been affected by salty air from the sea and salt is the biggest advocate of rust.

The rust belt is another location that’s not friendly when it comes to rust. In this case, the roads in the rust belt are filled with salt, which poses a problem for cars. Salt is used in this region to melt down snow and ice that pile up on the road.

We mostly find this problem in petrol cars.

States that are part of the rust belt include Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and others. There are a few ways to avoid rust in these states and that brings us to the second factor.

How well the car has been taken care of will determine if you have to worry about rust. The rigorous maintenance someone in the rust belt has to undergo might be unnecessary for people in other regions.

However, all car owners everywhere have to ensure their cars are always neat, dry, and salt-free.

The third and final factor is time. At some point, there’s only so much that a car can handle.

Although rust is avoidable, most cars on the roads would eventually rust because of one maintenance compromise or the other.

3. Transmission Malfunction and Leaks

Many people consider the transmission as the second most important component of any car after the engine. That’s because of all the heavy lifting the tranny handles.

Ironically, it’s also why they’re likely to develop problems as they age.

We’ve listed some cars that are prone to have transmission issues according to Consumer Reports. The Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Focus and Fiesta, Kia Forte, and the Chevrolet Traverse are all included.

It’s noteworthy that the Nissan Altima, Rogue, and Murano are also plagued with tranny issues.

This makes Nissan the car brand with the highest number of occurrences on the list.

The ultimate tranny nightmare is a total transmission failure. A more probable event is tranny malfunction where it doesn’t fail but develops problems that threaten performance.

Common transmission problems include tranny fluid leaks, hard shifting, alarming noise, slipping gears, and violent or random shaking.

These problems occur for several reasons, including worn-out gears and a clogged tranny filter. A clogged filter is one of those problems that seem minor at first but lead to major problems with time.

Leaking tranny fluid is another factor that can also develop into other problems we’ve mentioned.

Note that the transmission on all cars would wear out, eventually. However, we expect good transmissions to last the vehicle’s lifespan and should only need repairs along the ride.

4. Dreaded Engine Malfunction and Breakdown

We all know it. A faulty engine is the worst problem you can encounter with a used car. That’s because engines are to cars as CPUs are to computers.

Sadly, faulty engines are a very common problem with used cars because engines do a lot of work.

The challenge is that a vehicle is practically damaged if its engine breaks down. This is because engine replacement costs often result in thousands of dollars.

The Jaguar V12 engine, Lexus 2.5 V6 engine, and Mitsubishi 3-cylinder engine are examples of terrible engines prone to malfunction.

It’s so bad that engine replacement costs even compete with the price of used cars.

This can also happen if the car sits too long (see list of problems).

This may very well be the biggest reason people avoid used vehicles.

There are too many potential problems that can cause engine malfunction, so it’s hard to keep track of them. However, if you own a used car, ensure your spark plugs are in great shape. A worn-out spark plug can lead to engine stalling or misfiring.

You’d also want to check your radiator and connected hoses at intervals for leaks. This is because engine malfunction is usually a result of chain reactions of other components.

So, a leaking radiator or hose would cause coolant levels to drop dangerously.

As you’ve likely guessed, overheating is caused by problems like leaking coolant and a congested hose. Ultimately, overheating can lead to complete engine failure. We’ve described a typical route to failure, however, there are many other ways and reasons for malfunction.

If you’re lucky, you’ll hear alarming noises from beneath your car hood and that’ll help you act fast.

5. Worn Out Brake Rotors and Pads

Worn-out brake pads and rotors may be the most unavoidable problems with used vehicles. Sooner or later, drivers have to deal with them.

Car models that experience premature brake wear include the Honda Accord, Toyota Matrix, and Dodge Grand Caravan.

To best understand the reason for this, you should know exactly what goes on when you step on the brakes. Each time you step on your brake pedal, the brake calipers press the brake pads tightly to the rotors. This force causes the rotors to stop moving, and the car halts.

However, over time, the brake rotors start thinning because of the regular friction they undergo. As expected, as this happens, your car’s stopping distance increases gradually until your car becomes a risk on the roads.

Whether or not worn-out brake components are going to be a problem for you mainly depends on your purchase timing.

Meaning at what mileage did you purchase the vehicle?

Another factor would be how long the previous owner or dealer was willing to delay before replacing the brake components.

Brake pads and rotors can last longer these days because of improved durability of their components.

However, 70,000 miles is never too early to have them replaced. The previous owner may have held out on replacing the brakes until 90,000 miles.

From this example, if you buy it at 85,000 miles, you’d replace them yourself. This best illustrates how car owners avoid spending too much on their cars. Many prefer to sell them off for new owners to handle themselves.

If you buy from a dealer, the brakes and other essential components would usually be in acceptable shape. For a higher price, that is.

6. Aged and Malfunctioning Alternator

Lastly, the alternator is another crucial component in cars.

When they fail, they affect working components in cars that function without fuel. Some cars prone to have alternator problems include the Dodge Challenger, Ford Focus, and Toyota Corolla.

So, with a failing alternator, you can expect to see a reduced performance in some components. Your headlights may start to get dim or may keep flashing and your interior accessories can become excruciatingly slow. You may also notice your dashboard lights flickering.

Ultimately, a failing alternator can result in a dead battery. Why? You ask. Let’s find out.

The alternator can be thought of as an energy converter because it converts mechanical energy into useful electrical energy.

It uses this converted energy from the engine crankshaft to power non-fuel-consuming components.

It also charges the car battery when the engine is on.


This way, the battery always has enough juice to power up the car. So, a failing alternator would be unable to convert this generated energy for use and that’s where it gets complicated.

Another symptom of a malfunctioning alternator is delayed or no start at all. When this occurs, it’s easy to blame the battery. However, when you examine the battery and it seems okay, you should consider the possibility that your alternator is faulty.

You can expect an alternator to last as long as 100,000 miles in good conditions, however, sometimes failure is sudden.

If the previous owner already worked on or replaced the alternator, you have little to worry about.

General Pros and Cons for Used Cars

A fun fact is that some people only ever buy used cars and this may be strange to many people.

However, it makes perfect sense, given that the practice has several benefits.

These are some of the good, alongside the bad, of buying used vehicles:


  • Little to no depreciation
  • Lower price for same product features
  • Lower insurance costs
  • Good store of value (Should you resell soon after)
  • Modern cars have longer lifespans


  • Incessant repair cost (if parts start failing)
  • Alarming oil consumption rate
  • Underbody and/or surface rust
  • Transmission malfunction
  • Possible engine breakdown

Admittedly, most of the advantages of used cars are related to costs rather than performance.

However, with modern cars on the market, you may get superb output should you buy a used car. All you have to do is follow strict standards and checks and you’d get a great deal in no time.

Meanwhile, the disadvantages are life-threatening and also swallow up money. That’s why you need to weigh all the pros and cons before getting yourself a used toy.

Sometimes, the repair costs aren’t worth the affordable price.

Related: Problems With Buying High Mileage Cars (5 Common Issues)

What Do the Reviews Say?

While not all used cars are ideal, no car review organization would explicitly advise you against purchasing a used car. Besides, many of them recommend used cars if the right criteria are met.

According to Edmunds, you can save as much as 50% or more of your money by buying a used vehicle.

That’s not all. In the not-so-distant past, they aggregated a list of the best-used cars.

You can see cars like the Nissan Maxima, Mazda 3, Toyota Avalon, and others on this list.

A recent review by Autolist rates the Honda Civic, Accord, and Toyota Camry well. They all have front-row seats on the list of the most reliable used cars to buy.

Although these cars would generally have problems of their own, it says a lot about used car reliability.

The bottom line is that you can get the most out of any car you buy, even if used.

Related: 8 Documents You MUST Get When Buying USED Cars

What’s the Resale Value of Used Cars?

These are the resale values for base trims across different vehicle models after some years.

Model Approx. Mileage (Miles) Price ($)
2017 Ford Focus 71,000 12,850
2018 Nissan Maxima 56,800 24,900
2017 Mazda 3 71,000 16,975
2019 Toyota Avalon 42,600 34,350
2020 Honda Accord 28,400 29,750
2016 Honda Civic 85,200 17,875
2018 Kia Rio 56,800 16,225

The resale values of used cars can’t be understood from resale prices alone. This is because different classes have different price ranges.

So, a luxury brand would still have more value after a specified period than a regular one.

A better way to understand used car resale values would be to observe depreciation rates. New cars lose over 23% of their initial value in the first year and up to 60% after 5 years.

With this in mind, a new $40,000 vehicle would be worth less than $32,000 after the first year. Now you can easily understand why used cars are cheaper.

By the time you buy a used car, it’s already past the depreciation stage. You also get to sell it for an amount close to what you bought it for. Again, this is because depreciation is spread out almost evenly after the first 5 years.

Related: 15 Used Cars With The Least Problems (Reliable Options)

Final Thoughts

Problematic cars, according to Your Mechanic are the Ford Explorer, Honda Accord, Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram, and Journey. Unfortunately, the Hyundai Elantra, Subaru Forester, Chevy Equinox, and Chrysler Intrepid didn’t escape the list.

Most people would be shocked to see some of America’s favorite cars on the list.

Some of these vehicles are among the bestsellers in the world. If you’re shocked, consider this theory: ‘the higher the sales of any model, the higher the likelihood of problems occurring.’

What this means is that the most sought-after cars will naturally have the most complaints. So, if other lesser-known models become loved and used by most of the population, more problems would arise.

In simpler terms, you can’t complain about what you don’t use.


Cars Most Likely to Need a Transmission Replacement | Consumer Reports

Used Car Ratings | Car, Truck & SUV Ratings | Edmunds

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