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How to Detect Lot Rot When Buying a New Car

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, 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, 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,
  • having all the hoses and belts checked thoroughly,
  • and getting a full fuel-system flush.

The 2017 Car Surplus

When the 2008 financial crises 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 has 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 SUV's 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 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 Jen's Solitude


Marc A. on May 02, 2018:

Just the other day (04/30/18) I bought a 2017 Ford Edge SEL, AWD, V6. LOVE IT. Manufactured March 2017. It's been on the dealer lot since June 2017 and who knows where before that. I actually test drove the exact car in November 2017, no issues. It sat all Winter a very cold, brutal one at that. The rubber seals have dust embedded in them, the tires seem fine, I've yet to check my wiper blades but they seemed to work when I came out of the car wash. A vehicle brand new that sticker price was $38,000. I got it for far less, it has all the options I wanted, colors and all. I wish I knew the term "lot rot" before as I just heard about it today from a service advisor at another Ford service department. The night I bought it and drove home everything seemed perfectly fine. The next day I put 100 miles on it and my back brakes started shuttering and thumping loudly. Back to the dealer. They machined the rotors according to Fords warranty and did not replace my pads (why not?). The service tech. test drove with the service manager and almost ran into somebody "head on" in the parking lot at a high rate of speed right in front of me. I was LIVID. All trust was lost right there. They returned and I chewed them out and said I'll never be back. I was told my brakes were not fixed to perfection. My key was left in the vehicle sitting on there lot, I asked where my key was and nobody knew. Finally a technician chimed in that it was in the car. It was sitting in the dealer parking lot engine running all by itself as it has the "push button" start and the vehicle idles VERY quietly. Somebody could have just drove off if they stumbled upon it. The service did not close out my ticket and since it is considered warranty work and they started the job, they have to finish fixing it. Ford WILL NOT authorize another dealer to fix it, "sorry" was all Ford customer care told me. I DO NOT want my car in this dealers service department as they are extremely unprofessional and totally incompetent. No apology, nothing, the dealer manager would not even speak with me. My partner is listed as an owner on the vehicle and is a local attorney. They know it and will not speak with me as I assume they're now afraid of us. My partner does not want to deal with it and getting wrapped up into litigation as he is local (small town) and worried how it may affect his business in his personal law practice. He is sick over it as I am too. Now as I read about "lot rot" I wonder what else I will discover along the way. This was a very informative article and enlightened me even more about this issue. How is my battery/charging and electronic system going to be? How will my tires and brakes wear? This is my very first brand new car as I wanted to be the one to "break it in." A 40th birthday present to myself. My cars have always been purchased at about 2-3 years of age and 30-40k miles on them, no major problems ever. The car I traded in was a 2012 Camry SE in perfect condition. Very well maintained, adult driven, it just did not suit me anymore and I wanted to let it go before 100k miles when the power train warranty expired. Maybe I just made the biggest mistake ever. I hope not but now I am going to have an independent mechanic do a full checkup and brake job on my new Edge. If only I had researched "lot rot" I would have been better prepared, it may not have stopped me from buying the car but at least I could have had some things taken care of before I drove off the lot. That's what happens when you stay at the dealer 3 hours after closing to finalize the deal and all you want is to be home and in bed after a very long day. The car was purchased in haste because of expiring rebates and incentives that day, but if only. Now I have to pay sales tax and license on top of repair work. If only...

Ali on January 19, 2018:

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.

Lou on January 03, 2018:

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 Lpatrikis@yahoo.com.

Thanks in advance,

Lou Patrikis

Jen's Solitude (author) from Delaware on December 10, 2010:

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.

Jillian Heiser on December 09, 2010:

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 (author) from Delaware on February 04, 2010:

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. ;-)

Lori Catz on February 04, 2010:

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 (author) from Delaware on June 14, 2009:

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 from -Oceania on June 14, 2009:

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

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