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How to Spot "Lot Rot" When Buying a New Car

From my first successful eBay vehicle purchase until the present time I have researched how to find the best deals on used cars.

Nissan's test track contains thousands of new surplus autos

Nissan's test track contains thousands of new surplus autos

Buying a Car?

If you plan on buying a new car, 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 the country means they have done little more than gather 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 periods:

  • Rust
  • Brake issues
  • Batteries that will not hold a charge
  • Tires developing flat spots
  • Damaged paint
  • Screeching tires

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. Storage areas near the sea also expose new cars to saltwater damage.

11-Second Sound Bite of Screeching Tires with Lot Rot

Foreign and Domestic Problem

Toyota, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, GM, Chrysler, and 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 that you check the date of "new" tires to make sure of the age of your car. The date is located on 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 saltwater 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,
  • having all the hoses and belts checked thoroughly,
  • and getting a full fuel system flush.

The 2017 Car Surplus

When the 2008 financial crisis began to lift and credit began flowing, consumers unknowingly purchased vehicles with lot rot problems. Some did buy cars that needed a few lot rot-type repairs and were able to get great deals on new cars.

Wouldn't you be OK with buying a new battery or replacing the tires if you were able to get a car at a reduced rate?

And think about how much money the car companies would make if they significantly reduced the price of their cars. Instead of just letting millions of these cars sit on some lot slowly losing their value, the industry changed the way it dealt with the cars and put a plan in place to get the cars moving slowly but surely. It took years to handle the log jam of unsold vehicles.

In the broader sense has it been a win/win for consumers and car manufacturers alike? The answer to that question varies based on individual experiences. Car buyers must remember to check for lot rot and negotiate the best deal possible given the condition of the new car.

Auto companies were banking on the fact that small cars would be their future they did not expect the shift in customer preference that occurred in 2017. Customers began buying trucks and SUVs once again which meant an inventory increase in small sedans. North America has especially been hit hard by this shift. Buyers of smaller cars want to be especially mindful of how long a car has been sitting in an auto dealership as excess inventory. Investigate the electronic system and the vehicle's wiring since so many vehicles have features that depend on these systems.

Predicting the correct number of automobiles to produce is a difficult process. Getting it wrong results in unsold cars that sit and suffer from various forms of rot and decay. Following the research of auto professionals who track dealer inventory can keep car buyers stay up to date with a manufacturer's excess vehicle production. Keep in mind that in this country the automobile industry standard is an average of 71 days sitting on dealership lots. Knowing the amount of time a car has been on the dealership's lot can be a good starting point when investigating a vehicle's lot rot potential.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2009 Darline Kilpatrick