What's the Red Flag That Always Stops You From Buying a Car?

Photo: Steve Pfost/Newsday RM (Getty Images)

We’ve all been there. You’re shopping for your next car, and you spot a great listing, but something seems a little bit off. The Craigslist ad looks great, the photos all show a car in seemingly excellent working order, but there’s a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that you just can’t seem to get rid of. Something’s wrong.

You scan back through the ad, tab through all the photos, and then you see it. The red flag, the singular thing that made the whole deal seem too good to be true. You close the listing and move on to the next one, but what was the issue? What red flag drove you away from the car?

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Photo: Pablo Monsalve/VIEWpress

The red flag that always seems to get me is any issue with a car’s title. I grew up in Connecticut, a state that doesn’t issue titles for “classic” cars, so I’m well used to figuring out how to register a new-to-me vehicle without that crucial piece of paper. But when browsing AE86es or S-chassis on Facebook Marketplace, you’re likely to find a more sinister title issue: The open title.

This is when, during a previous transaction, the seller signs the title, but the buyer never does (most often, to avoid paying state sales tax or adding another “owner” to the history of a vehicle they’re planning to flip). Instead, they sell the car to someone else, who sells it to the next person, and on and on. Eventually, you stumble upon a clean hachiroku on Marketplace, but the title is six owners and three states old — God help you if you ever try to register that thing.

That’s my biggest red flag, the one that will always turn me off from a purchase. But what’s yours? Have you bought too many rusted-out New England cars to ever shop in the Northeast again? Are you suspicious of anything modified that might not pass smog? Leave your replies in the comments, and we’ll collect our favorites to discuss tomorrow afternoon.

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