21 Important Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car
Asking the right questions about a used car can save you thousands of dollars in the long run. It can also save you from having buyer's remorse or headaches surrounding unexpected repairs.
You can also check out our guide on how to buy a used car.
Table of Contents
- How Old Is the Car?
- Why Are You Selling the Car?
- How Long Have You Owned the Car?
- What's the Ownership History?
- How Many Miles Does the Car Have?
- Can I See the VIN Number?
- How Has the Car Been Maintained?
- Do You Have Service Records?
- Has It Been in Any Accidents?
- Is the Car Being Sold as Is or Under Warranty?
- Has Anything Been Updated or Replaced?
- What Is the Condition of the Exterior?
- How Is the Car's Interior?
- Are There Any Mechanical Issues?
- Are Any Features Malfunctioning?
- Would You Take This Vehicle on a Long Road Trip?
- How Did You Determine the Price of the Car?
- Do You Take Trade-Ins?
- Can I Take a 30-Minute Test Drive?
- What's the Status of the Title?
- Can I Have the Car Inspected by a Mechanic?
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How Old Is the Car?
Cars lose value over time. Knowing the car's age will help you negotiate the best price as you can factor in the vehicle's market value and age.
Why Are You Selling the Car?
With private sellers, you can never be sure of their motive for selling the car. An honest seller will be able to provide a reasonable answer. If they suddenly become avoidant or seem nervous to address this question, that's a red flag.
How Long Have You Owned the Car?
Sellers who have owned the car for a long time should provide more information about its history. It's not always the case, but sellers trying to get rid of a car after only a year or less may not be happy with it.
What's the Ownership History?
Lack of details about the car's ownership history and owning the car for a short time are warning signs. It's often best to look for cars being sold by the "original owner" or when the owner knows its history.
How Many Miles Does the Car Have?
Mileage impacts the value of a car. Ensure that the mileage provided matches the odometer.
Can I See the VIN Number?
The VIN number will confirm that the seller is the legal owner and that the registration is correct. If the seller cannot provide you with the VIN, steer clear.
How Has the Car Been Maintained?
Find out where the owner took the vehicle for maintenance and ask if it is up to date. If possible, you can even contact the mechanic who worked on the vehicle.
Do You Have Service Records?
Sellers that can provide service records and have them on hand have probably serviced the car regularly.
Has It Been in Any Accidents?
Most often, accidents are reported on the vehicle history report, but they can be missed. Confirm the accident status of the car. If it was in an accident, get the details on how it was damaged and fixed.
Is the Car Being Sold as Is or Under Warranty?
Private sellers will generally sell the vehicle "as is", but some dealerships may offer a warranty. Additionally, some cars could still be under the manufacturer's warranty. If not, you will have full responsibility for dealing with any flaws or repairs as soon as you purchase it.
Has Anything Been Updated or Replaced?
Recent updates can boost a vehicle's value and give you a better idea of how much you'll need to invest later. Ask for records or receipts to verify any major updates.
What Is the Condition of the Exterior?
Oftentimes, the exterior of a car will give you insight into how the vehicle has been treated. You can inspect the vehicle for yourself, but also ask the seller up front if there's any damage to the:
- Car frame
- Body Work
- Wheels and tires
How Is the Car's Interior?
Ask the seller if there are any known defects or signs of damage. Keep an eye out for rips and tears in the seats, stains on the upholstery, stretches, a smokey smell, and more. A clean interior in good condition is another clue that the car has been maintained well.
Are There Any Mechanical Issues?
The owner should be aware of any serious mechanical problems that must be made. Make sure the engine compartment is clean and free from leaking fluids.
Are Any Features Malfunctioning?
There's always a chance that a used car has a few issues, but some are bigger than others. Ask the seller if they know of any defects, including the radio/CD player, air conditioning, speakers, display pixels, etc.
Would You Take This Vehicle on a Long Road Trip?
Many sellers may not expect this question, but the answer is quite important. If the seller is hesitant to answer or would not want to drive the car cross country right now, the chances are that there's a reason.
How Did You Determine the Price of the Car?
You want to make sure you're getting a fair price and that the seller isn't just pulling a number out of a hat. He or she should explain how they determined their listing price, and you should cross-check any pricing guides they reference.
Do You Take Trade-Ins?
If a dealership is selling the car, find out if they take trade-ins. If you no longer need your current vehicle after purchasing the next one, trading it in can offset some of the expenses and save you the time of privately selling.
Can I Take a 30-Minute Test Drive?
A 30-minute test drive is ideal for evaluating how a car runs and if it suits your needs. A dealership likely won't protest, but a private seller may be wary. If they are apprehensive, invite them along so they can keep an eye on the vehicle.
What's the Status of the Title?
When buying a used vehicle, you are looking for a clean (not salvage) title, a title that matches the seller's name, and one that's physically present/ready to sign over. Whether from a private seller or dealership, you should never pay for a vehicle without having the title in hand. You can legally buy a salvaged vehicle, but the salvaged title is permanent and significantly reduces the car's value.
Can I Have the Car Inspected by a Mechanic?
Only ask this question if you are serious and ready to buy. A mechanical inspection is a small investment compared to what a dud used car can cost you. As long as you pay for the service, an honest seller (including a dealership) should not have an issue with this request. You should have a trusted shop or mechanic ready to go as sellers may not hold the car for days to let you get it inspected.