Shopping for a used car often means running the risk of ending up with a lemon. If you buy from a dealer, you might be able to get a warranty, but there are no warranties when you buy from a private owner, and in such cases, being unable to spot a bad car can cost you a lot later on. Here are some tips that can help you avoid falling into a trap next time you buy a used vehicle.

Check the reliability rating
A good way to start out your search is to choose from a select number of brands that have good reliability ratings. Go to Consumer Reports' website or purchase a printed copy and check to see which cars scored the highest. This is not a necessary step, but it helps narrow down your search.

Check the exterior
When you do an exterior check of a used car you're looking to possibly buy, pay attention to signs of previous damage. Dents, chipped paint, mismatched body panels and shoddy looking body-work are all bad signs. Doors that don't open properly usually mean that a previous, possibly major, collision never got properly repaired.

Interior check
When inspecting a car's interior, see that the dashboard has no major damage. Check whether the headliners are sagging. Any missing or broken handles, buttons or knobs are steer-clear signs of a lemon. If the pedals are too worn for the distance indicated by the odometer, it is possible that the odometer is wrong and/or has been rigged. Look out also for the smell of mildew, as it usually means flood or severe water damage.

Does make funny noises?
Take the car out for a drive and listen to the engine noises. If the engine seems to rev up too much when you press down on the gas pedal, this could be a sign of a worn out clutch or a broken transmission. Other unusual sounds probably mean you shouldn't buy.

Car history
Always check a used car's history before you buy. Go to either CarFax or Experian Automotive online and purchase a car history report on any vehicle you are seriously thinking of buying. These reports alert you to a wide variety of possible problems, like major past damage and odometer fraud. The reports cost around $15, cheap considering the alternative possibility of ending up with a lemon car.

Avoid seeing a San Diego Lemon Lawyer by checking into your car before you purchase it.