How to Detect Lot Rot When Buying a New Car

Updated on January 9, 2017
Nissan's test track contains thousands of new surplus autos
Nissan's test track contains thousands of new surplus autos

If you plan on buying a new car in the next couple of years, you need to know what lot rot is and how to detect it. The fact that hundreds of thousands of new cars have spent months and in some cases years sitting in seaports and large storage lots across this country means they have done little more than gathered dust and rot.

Lot rot is the damage done to cars when they sit openly exposed to the elements for weeks, months or years at a time. Sure the cars get a quick once over to pretty them up when they are ready to be sold, but before that time your new car could be damaged in ways you never before thought would occur to a new auto.

Problems that occur when cars sit unattended for long durations

  • developing rust problems
  • brake issues
  • batteries that will not hold a charge
  • tires develop flat spots
  • damaged paint

This unprecedented storage is occurring because auto dealerships began refusing delivery of domestic and foreign cars as inventories surpassed demand. With nowhere else to turn, car manufacturers began leasing hundreds of acres of storage facilities to house the unsold cars.

These storage areas are exposed to the elements all year round, from ultraviolet rays to tornadoes or blizzards. The areas near the sea also expose new cars to salt water damage.

Foreign and Domestic Problem

Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, GM, Chrysler, Ford are just some of the big name companies experiencing inventory surplus. Worldwide plummeting auto sales have meant that thousands of foreign and domestic cars are piling up in our seaports.

Besides housing the cars on large lots, many car manufacturers are closing down their production plants for a month or more trying to get rid of the inventory already available before adding countless more new cars to their surpluses.

What to Examine Before Buying that New Car

Consumers who may be ready to purchase a car now or in the next few years will want to run down a checklist with the dealer and try to negotiate as many repairs as possible before buying the car.

Being educated about lot rot will come in handy, especially since many dealers will cut the price of cars experiencing lot rot, just to move them. The tempting price cut could make you forget to check the car thoroughly.

  • Check the manufacturing date of the car, in the same way you check the date of "new" tires, to make sure of the age of your car. The date is located in the front driver's side door.
  • Check the battery for leakage and be cognizant that most dealers will simply give the battery a quick zap, which will only last a limited time while the alternator keeps the car running before the battery drains dead again. Negotiate about whether the battery will be totally replaced by the dealer if the problem should arise. Beware - more often than not, the battery is not covered in the new car warranty!
  • Check the tire for 'flat spots' which affect the smoothness of the car. Some problems of short duration are normal, but if the tires have flat spots, the problem will not go away.
  • Examine the paint for uneven coloring, and exposure to salt water and sunlight.
  • Look for rust spots under the car and in between the doors
  • Check the brakes. Rust on rotors can create brake noise. Lot rot based brake noise is usually a high pitch squeal or grind.

Some other precautionary steps include:

Having the air, oil and cabin filters replaced.

Replacing the seals and the gasoline.

Have all the hoses and belts checked thoroughly

Get a full fuel-system flush


When the financial crises begins to lift and credit begins flowing, why don't the auto manufacturers just have giant lot sales? If prices were cut and consumers looked out for expensive repairs, I'm sure many would buy a new car that needed a few lot rot type repairs just to get a great deal on a new car.

Imagine how much interest there would be in a car that is 40-50% cheaper because it was housed in one of these lots. Wouldn't you be OK with buying a new battery or replacing the tires if you were able to get a car at that reduced rate?

And think about how much money the car companies would make if they significantly reduced the price on these cars. Instead of just letting millions of these cars sit on some lot slowly losing their value. Change the way the industry deals with the cars and put a good plan in place to get the cars moving now and especially in the near future when the hard economic times ease up.

Seems it would be a win/win for consumers and car manufacturers alike. Hopefully some innovative thinking about what to do with these cars will be up and coming. If it happens, just remember to check for lot rot and negotiate the best deal possible given the condition of the new car.

Auto companies are banking on the fact that small cars are their future. So then, it makes even more sense to offer great deals on the inventory surplus they all now possess, especially those companies with an overabundance of large cars no longer in high demand.

Finding more information about their plans for the future would no doubt make a fine addition to this article. So I'll plan a second part based on future news.


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    • profile image

      Ali 3 months ago

      I bought a brand new 2017 Nissan Versa a week ago, and on my way home with my brand new car, it started having big problems. It seems that cvt was all messed up and it would not upshift. I was going less than 20 mph and the rpm's were over 4000. I had to drive 2 to 3 mph to keep the engine from revving too high. I ended up stranded in a little town and the car had to be towed back to the dealership. Is this lot rot??? They told us that when they went to get the car ready for me to pick up, the battery was dead so they put a new one in.

    • profile image

      Lou 3 months ago

      Thanks for the information on lot rot.

      My dealer has a new Toyota 2018 Corolla on his lot. It never moves.

      In order to get the deal I want, he needs to wait for a rebate from Toyota that will make it worth his while to sell it to me.

      It’s been outdoors since November with the protective covering the manufacturer puts on it. How long before lot rot becomes a problem? What’s the maximum time I should wait before I walk away from the deal?

      Please email me your reply to

      Thanks in advance,

      Lou Patrikis

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 7 years ago from Delaware

      That's terrible. I sure hope sitting for so long won't be more expensive than it already has been. Glad the article helped you though. Take care and thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Jillian Heiser 7 years ago

      Thank you! My 01 Windstar has been sitting since August waiting for recall parts. It won't start & the dealer says the fuel pump needs replaced. I cannot imagine what all else is going to be wrong when we get it back.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Thanks for the thought Lori, guess it depends on what the warranty covers and how expensive it is. No doubt someone has written a hub on the subject. ;-)

    • profile image

      Lori Catz 8 years ago

      I always think it's best to buy slightly used, then just get a warranty with a reputable 3rd party. It saves you a ton of money.

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 8 years ago from Delaware

      Thanks Eaglekiwi! I hope you get a great deal because it would compensate for any repairs you need to make because of lot rot, like replacing the battery or the tires. Don't walk too much. :)

    • Eaglekiwi profile image

      Eaglekiwi 8 years ago from -Oceania

      great hub as we are contemplating buying a car in the next few weeks (hopefully) this city's gonna walk my butt thanks for the info