How to avoid a lemon?

I am in the market for a used car…can you please tell me what I should notice(if anything) to avoid buying a vehicle with “problems”…should I take it to a mechanic b/4 I buy? I am currently interested in a 2002 Dodge Caravan Sport $8,990.00 - 75,896 miles - is that a good price, and do these vans tend to have any problems?

Thanks for any help!

Just a girl who knows nothing about cars! LOL :slight_smile:

Try to look up consumer reports first. Also if you have time try to buy from a private seller. That might reduce your chances of buying something you will regret. I remember that a couple of years ago, there were several Ford Tarus and Chevy Impalas on the market around 12 -14 grand with 15 - 20thousand miles on them. All within the warramty period. And if you get an extended warranty (from the OEM not the dealer) then you might be in good shape.

Buying any used car is a gamble. They should all be inspected before purchase but even that is not a guarantee of no problems. The vehicle is a conglomeration of used parts which can fail at any time and there is no way of determining the condition of a lot of those parts. The inspection can help a lot but it’s not the final word.

That being said, I think this vehicle is way overpriced by about 2500 dollars, or thereabouts. Maybe even more depending on a close inspection. JMHO anyway and hope it helps.

You are so in luck. Most people buy it first and then write to car questions and ask about blown head gaskets, burned brakes or why the transmission doesn’t shift into third. Why are you in luck? It isn’t lucky that you questioned us it was smart thinking. It’s that the Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue is an April edition and will most likely be in the book stores and grocery stores in early March. You will get the Buying Guide issue too if you subscribe for 26 dollars. Don’t go near that old wreck of a Caravan. We’re talking “Puff the Tragic Wagon” here. It is on the list of Vehicles to Avoid. I don’t call myself pleasedodgevan for nothing. If you can dodge the one that will break the bank, you’ll be better off. Read this forum for two months and you will notice trends like Subaru head gaskets. How antilock brake systems can be a headache and the ten year old airbags that didn’t work. You will see me write some silly stuff, like why I think Saturns were designed by Oldsmobile, after 85 percent of the budget was cut and that the clay model was left out in the rain for a week and then put into production at the McArthur Park Concrete and Iron Works. I wrote good but tawk beeter.

Frankly most Lemons are made, they don’t just happen.

To help reduce the chance that you are not getting one, have a good mechanic check it out. They can’t find everything, but they will get most of the worse things.

Good Luck.

That’s not a bad vehicle per se (the '01s were much more problematic). But as others have said, its maintenance and driving history are more important. By all means, get is checked out by your own mechanic. Just don’t let him/her scare with tales of exploding transmissions- transmission failures in these tend to be caused by lack of maintenance or use of the wrong fluid.

From whom would you be buying the van? What kind of warranty is being offered, if any? The price may be a little high, depending options, vehicle condition, and your location.

It’s not possible to tell you how attractive the price is without knowing what options are on it and the condition. I wouldn’t buy it unless it was outstanding (no flaws, including wear) or clean (wear allowed).

I will say that an outstanding, loaded version from a dealer would sell for about $7900. You can send us an options list and assess the condition or check it out yourself at:

Just plug in the requested information and options and get a price estimate. I think that this service is fairly accurate for late model used cars like this Caravan. You can do the same thing at

If you’re really interested in the vehicle, find a good, honest, dependable independent mechanic to bring it to for a thorough front-to-rear and top-to-bottom inspection. Most Bills of Sale have a disclaimer along the lines of “sold as is and as shown”. The underside, i.e.: exhaust system, wheel wells, tires, wheels, suspension, etc., is the ‘bottom’ part. He/she should know exactly what to look for including previous body damage, WATER DAMAGE (from being a vehicle in a flood), checking out all electrical and mechanical systems including brakes, etc. It will take him a couple of hours, maybe even three. Most cherge by their normal base hourly charge, but make a deal before you go back for a second “look-see” of the vehicle. Get the owner to agree to a pre-purchase inspection. If he doesn’t agree, run like he77. There’s something about the vehicle’s condition that he doesn’t want you to find out about. If he agrees, he might want you to leave something behind as collateral while you’re in his vehicle. You’ll have to make the decision if he insists on accompanying you. That’ll give you a chance to see his certificate of insurance. If he is insured, then ask him to let you drive. Heck, it’s just a road test, right? Then you can check to make sure that the seats are adjustable to you, check all of the mirrors, sound system, power antenna if so equipped, etc. You’ll be surprised at what some of these little tricks will uncover–or not uncover as the case may be. Go for a ride to your mechanic. The owner may have a maintenance record that he’ll offer to the mechanic. You might end up with a really sweet deal or find out that it’s a bad dog. For the price of the inspection, figuring $50/hr., which may be high or low for your mechanic in your area, maybe $150 tops?, that’s a pretty good investment against an $8,995 expenditure. The owner might be negotiated with to knocking off the inspection costs from the asking price. You don’t know 'til you ask. If he agrees so far, chances are that he’s a decent, fair person. If your mechanic says buy it, as you are also a very nice person, stop at a gas station and put a couple of gallons in the vehicle. Heck, you’ll end up burning that fuel, anyway if you buy the vehicle, but it’ll show a really good jesture on your part. You just might get a few ‘extras’, like spare wheels, a snow scraper thrown in, or maybe he bought a new set of wiper blades that he hasn’t installed yet. Perhaps a bottle or two of dry gas or fuel injector/carb. cleaner, tire chains, steering wheel cover? While you’re there for the second ‘look-see’, check for a spare tire, owner’s manual, and the jack and tools for changing tires. If your mechanic does find stuff that you’ll have to tend to in the near future, negotiate to see if the seller will pick up costs related to those items. A 50/50 split on these kinds of items is quite often negotiated. 50% is better than zero. He can simply knock off from the asking price. If he squawks, don’t let it be a deal killer. You might still have a good deal. After all, you ARE a nice person, remember?

From what I have read in Consumer Reports, minivans as a group have a worse repair record than automobiles made by the same manufacturer. Some minivans are built on the same platform as a passenger car, and perhaps the chassis can’t handle the added weight. On the other hand, the GM minivans (Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari) and the Ford Aerostar were built on truck platforms, and, according to Consumer Reports, did not have a stellar repair record. Even the Honda and Toyota minivans don’t seem to be as good as the cars made by these companies as far as repairs are concerned.

If you need a minivan, and these vehicles are very versatile, have it checked thoroughly as you should with any vehicle. If you don’t need the minivan, you may want to keep searching for a car that meets your needs. That said, I’ve owned three different minivans–a Ford Aerostar (1990), a Ford Windstar (2000) and a Chevrolet Uplander (2006). The Ford Aerostar was purchased used, but did have a warranty. Under the warranty, it had the engine and transmission replaced. I had no major repairs on the Windstar in 100,000 miles and the Uplander has had no repairs at 36,000.