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4 Common Car Defects and Malfunctions You Should Be Aware Of

A lot of people rely on the used car market to buy their next model at a cheaper price. But as many will attest, buying a used car can often times feel like navigating a minefield. You never know what challenges you might face when you drive a used vehicle. While it might make financial sense to buy a second-hand car, footing the repair bills after the expiry of the manufacturer warranty can be a huge problem down the road.

Keep in mind, most used cars don’t come with an aftermarket warranty. Having peace of mind over its reliability is therefore an essential factor to consider when making this type of purchase.

To help with this process, here are some of the most common car defects and malfunctions to look out for.

1. Airbag Defects

Defective airbags can be deadly. Recently, cars made by 19 different automakers were recalled over the issue of defective frontal airbags. These airbags made by Takata have been alleged to cause at least 12 deaths and more than 180 injuries in U.S. alone! According to NHTSA, this is “the largest and most complex safety recall in U.S. history.” Even worse, lawsuit documents allege that many of these car manufacturers were aware of these defective airbags, yet still used them to save on costs.

The problem was caused by the airbag’s inflator. The Japanese manufacturer Takata used a metal cartridge in their airbags, which was loaded with propellant wafers. In some cases, this metal cartridge ignited with explosive force and was ruptured in the crash. As a result, the airbag’s metal shards sprayed throughout the passenger cabin and caused disastrous outcomes in many cases.

The U.S. Federal government has released a partial list of affected vehicles. In addition, you can also check if your vehicle is on the airbag recall list by entering your car’s VIN numbers at If you are residing in the state of California and are affected by the Takata airbag recall, consult with a california lemon lawyer at the earliest to learn your rights.

2. Fuel Injection System Leaks

Fuel injection system leaks are to be blamed for difficult or hard-to-start engines, particularly when the engines are still warm. This happens as the fuel rail pressure drops and fluid leaks into the manifold, causing the spark plugs to get flooded. In fact, leaking fuel injectors can cause fire hazards and may also lead to severe and costly engine damage.

In some cases, proper cleaning techniques is enough to restore the injectors, but in more severe situations, you may need to install new fuel injectors. The following are some of the common symptoms of this problem:

  • Increased fuel consumption
  • Hard to start engines
  • Fuel odors inside and around the car
  • Oil thinning – this can cause catastrophic engine failure
  • Rough idle
  • Poor emissions
  • Hydro-lock (this too may result in disastrous engine failure)

It is advisable to conduct a fuel pressure leak-down test before purchasing a second-hand car.

3. Air Conditioner Mold

Air conditioner mold can make your car smell really bad - like cat urine or rotten cabbage. Unfortunately, air conditioner mold is often an issue with pre-used cars, mainly because the previous owner didn’t clean or change the filter regularly. Exposure to mold can cause several serious health problems, including allergic reactions and respiratory disorders.

If a smell is coming from the car’s air conditioner, chances are, the smell is mold. Many industry experts believe that new vehicle designs are also a cause of this issue. In order to create a better AC system efficiency, manufacturers now create air conditioning systems with more surface area. While this practice made the AC system more efficient, it also created more space for moisture to accumulate and mold to grow. The bad odor not only causes discomfort, it can also trigger asthma and allergy attacks.

The solutions to this problem are many, ranging from changing the filter, to using bacteria killing aerosols, to replacing the entire system - if nothing else works.

4. Defective Seat Belts

Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), collected from all 50 states and the District of Columbia fatal traffic crashes were responsible for 37,461 deaths in 2016. But fastening themselves up is perhaps the most effective thing one can do during a crash. Another NHTSA report of 2015 found that around 80 percent of the drivers and passengers who were ejected from the vehicle during the crash were killed, making this safety device the best defense against fatal accidents. In fact, wearing seat belts reduces 45 percent risk of fatal injury and 50 percent risk of moderate-to-critical injury for the front seat passengers. And while there is no denying that many of these people were unrestrained during the time of the crash, there are instances where passengers were killed due to defective seat belts.

A defective seat belt can cause several serious injuries, including fractures, bruising, lacerations, dislocations, concussions, and whiplash. While such injuries usually lead to intensive medical treatment, some may even be fatal. In fact, manufacturers like Ford and Toyota have recalled their vehicles in the past for possible seat belt failure.[I changed the tone of the post as I couldn’t find any suitable data. In fact, I did find one which looked quite promising (The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), estimates that as many as 3 million people each year are injured when seat belts fail and up 40,000 people die from this preventable auto defect.) but couldn’t find any authority website to link it back.]

Drivers and passengers rely on factory-installed safety features like airbags and seat belts. When they fail to perform as intended in the case of the accident, the results can be catastrophic. Some of the common types of seat belt failures include:

  • Unlatching and false latching
  • Retractor failure
  • Poor seat belt design
  • Torn or ripped belt webbing
  • Software defect
  • Excessive spooling
  • Entire system failure

Detecting seat belt failure is easier said than done. It is essential to be vigilant and keep your eyes open for signs like ripped or worn webbing seat belts, the front seat occupant making contact with the windshield etc. In fact, if you happen to endure serious injuries even in a minor collision accident, you may have a defective seat belt. Prior to making a purchase take the time to inspect your new vehicle.


Buying a lemon is often times unavoidable. But, in California, manufacturers may have a duty and responsibility to ensure the safety of the commuters. Additionally, California’s consumers are protected by California’s lemon laws. Don’t buy a used car just because you are getting it at a lower price. Sometimes, a cheap car can end up costing you more in the long run, or may be the sign of a used lemon vehicle.


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