There are plenty of risks to consider when buying a used car. What did the previous owner do with it? How reliable will it be? How much will it cost to insure? Questions like these are enough to keep you up at night, wide awake, wondering if you should have bought that new WRX with a warranty instead of that new-to-you WRX that was most likely hot-rodded by all 7 previous owners.
The market is full of cars that have dormant mechanical and electrical issues straight from the factory, quietly lurking in the shadows to appear and surprise you with a four-figure bill at the shop. And the last thing you want to see after leaving the lot is the ominous glow of the check engine light. If that isn’t enough, buying a used sports car is like sticking your hand into a box of mouse traps. The previous owner probably drove the doors off it, and, unless you know how to spot trouble, you might not even know that your car is a ticking time bomb.
So, to save you the trouble, I’m going to run you through five cars you should avoid like the plague. And the last car on this list is so bad, not even a four-leaf clover could bring good luck to how atrocious its reliability is.
Audi S4 (2004 – 2005)
The Audi S4 seems like an amazing deal to the untrained eye. Beautiful bodywork, Quattro all-wheel drive, killer luxury interior, all powered by a high-revving naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8. All the ingredients you need to have an absolute blast bombing down the Autobahn, going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in an exhilarating 5.3 seconds!
Brand new, this car was worth around $50,000. Yet, after a couple of years, depreciation hit it like a truck, dropping the value to just under $7,500 today. Getting a sporty German car from a reputable brand for half price sounds way too good to be true. Well, that’s because it is.
The B6 variant of the S4 is definitely the one to avoid! Spanning from 2003 to 2005, the B6 variant was the first major overhaul to the beloved B5 which had a biturbo 2.7-liter. The V8 in the B6 is downright unreliable and has a bad reputation for blowing up randomly. With the timing belt in the back of the engine close to the firewall, the only way to fix these bad boys is to pull the entire engine out, which can be an extremely expensive $7,000 to $8,000 job at the dealership. Seriously, what the hell was Audi thinking with that?
And if that unreliable V8 doesn’t bankrupt you, the bigger engine also leads to higher insurance costs which can further dig a grave for your wallet. Now, with the car’s age only increasing, the likelihood of finding one in good condition with low mileage is very very slim. People nowadays don’t really take maintenance into consideration. And, unless you’re buying this car from someone who refills their oil every 3,000 miles religiously, this car ain’t worth jack. You’re better off buying a CPO Audi A3, which has a much more reliable engine with way more tunability at the same price!
The Dodge Challenger is the quintessential poster car for your average high schooler. And this 2-door aggressive muscle car can easily be found for around $15,000 to $20,000 used. However, buyers beware! The muscleheads who bought these new usually beat the hell out of them! Do not be the second, or even third, owner of this vehicle at all costs!
The powerful V6 and V8 variants both come in strictly rear-wheel drive, which means these babies have probably seen more donuts than a cop car. And due to its Chrysler roots, these weren’t very reliable, even before they got abused. There are several well-documented complaints about the automatic transmission getting stuck in first gear, and reports of loud, clunky rough sounds when shifting gears with the heavy clutch in manuals.
Another problem is a hissing in the steering wheel at slow speeds which doesn’t sound like something you’d expect from a poster sports car. While the repair costs are definitely cheaper than the Audi, they will be frequent, which will add up over time. Insurance can definitely bite you as well, because of the two doors, huge engine, and high accident likelihood.
If you live in a place that isn’t sunny year-round, then you will have to worry about oversteer in any bad weather which can end badly if you don’t lift your foot off the gas. And that wouldn’t be very ideal.
BMW E60 M5
The BMW E60 M5 has a seriously beastly 500-horsepower V10 engine… in a sedan! This is a car that has the same engine as a Lamborghini for $15,000 used. And it sounds like this! The precise handling makes this car super fun to whip around, and you can get any car you pull up next to at the red light a nice date to Gapplebees.
The whole reason you would buy an M5 is for that dreamy engine, which unfortunately, is an unreliable nightmare. Rod bearings are the culprit, and when they fail, shit hits the fan. When they break, the entire engine grenades and sends shrapnel into the Vanos system which will then subsequently Thanos-snap your life savings away. This isn’t just some rare issue, it’s a common problem that happens to almost all E60 M5s, even low mileage ones. And replacing an engine in one of these is around $35,000 to $40,000! Double the price you probably paid for the car!
Adding more fuel to the fire, the awful automatic SMG transmission grenades itself frequently. And, the abysmal and notorious iDrive infotainment system makes you rage in frustration whenever you use it. This might possibly be the worst BMW ever made. I’d stay away from this German financial nightmare and save your money for a cheap sleeper car that you can tune into road-ripping animal!
R230 Mercedes-Benz SL600
The R230 Mercedes-Benz SL600 is a two-door coupe carrying an insane 6.0-liter V12, which makes a killer 604 horsepower that will glue you to the back of your seat! And the R230 SL600 has one hell of a beautiful singing voice. Sure, the car looks mean and handles like a dream, and can be found for under $10,000. This seems like a great idea on paper, but the R230 SL600 is anything but a good idea. In reality, be ready to learn that owning a Mercedes means repairs don’t come cheap!
It’s got a bigger engine than the previously mentioned BMW M5, and that means bigger breakdowns and bigger repair bills. The engine’s ABC lines frequently leak and they cost about $3,000 to replace each time. Just think about how much that can add up over time! Additionally, as these cars get older, suspension hoses fail, causing a bumpy ride to say the least. The R230 SL600 comes loaded with a lot of luxury amenities, even a car phone! Ring! Ring! Hello? Yes, this is your mechanic, all those fancy electronic bits fail year after year. That’ll be the rest of your life savings to keep that HVAC system working…
While it may look tempting to pilot a V12-powered German luxury liner, just say nein and do not buy this car!
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Being the newest car on the list, this car may come as a surprise to some, but anyone familiar with Alfa Romeo, will know it isn’t really a surprise. The depreciation of the Giulia makes it seem like an appealing choice. You can pick one up used for around $23,000 with under 50,000 miles. That is insane for a relatively newer car.
The Giulia comes in two trim levels: one base model with a 2.0-liter inline-four with 276 horsepower, or the Quadrifoglio model which has an exhilarating twin-turbo V6 pushing 500 horsepower, launching this car from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds, making it the fastest car on this list.
And, of course, it’s also the fastest to go zero-to-dealership. Giulia is filled with problems right from the factory. Cheap materials, terrible assembly standards, shoddy electronics, and check engine lights that you just can’t shake all come standard with the Giulia. One common issue is the electronic throttle control, which will light up the check engine light, sending you right to the dealership to empty your wallet. Even after you get it fixed, the error can still pop up every 10,000 miles!
Alfa’s poor craftsmanship and regular maintenance woes put this car in the grave along with all the money you thought you saved buying this nightmare! “Giulia” must be Italian for “regret”!