1) When it’s a private party sale and the owner has ZERO maintenance records. I know of no one who doesn’t stick their maintenance bills/records in the glovebox. If nothing’s there, I assume it’s because s/he’s hiding something.

2) The car is only available to see when it’s pitch black out, and he only has a dim flashlight to let you inspect the body. (no joke)

3) The seller who’s quick to pull out the bill of sale that includes “as-is” and “all sales final” in red bold in numerous places for you to sign.

4) One of the first things I look for is overspray (tirewells, undercarriage, cowl, radiator surround) the first telltale sign that it’s been wrecked and hastily/poorly/on-the-cheap repaired.

5) Always check the tire treads to see if they’re wearing evenly. If they’re not, do more digging to see if it’s just alignment or camber, or if there’s structural damage, or steering component damage. Alignment can be cheap, changing out the rack and pinion or replacing the k-member/subframe is not.

6) If the seller lists the auto as “excellent” or “mint” condition, and it’s obviously not, I won’t believe anything s/he tells me.

7) A pine tree scent board hanging from the mirror, fabreeze pods on every air conditioning vent and 8 fabric softerner sheets under the seat. Nope.

8) Rule of thumb — there are no “minor” electrical issues. Even minors ones tend to be major headaches (and sometimes dangerous). I had a project car catch fire because of the previous owners less-than-stellar under-dash wire splicing for the aftermarket stereo.

9) Remember “Rust free” does not mean “Bondo free.” If I find bondo in any one corner, I just figure that all four corners (fender, quarterpanels) will need new metal welded in.

10) ALWAYS ask, “if you were going to keep this car for another year, what would be the first part you’d like would need replacing or repair.” It’s surprising how many times I get an honest answer that leads to find a brewing problem.

11) “AC just needs charging” means it needs a new compressor or other component repair, unless they can show you a shop receipt stating that a recharge is all that is needed.