What To Ask When Buying A Used Car

Learn what to ask when buying a used car so that you don’t spend more money than you have to or, worse, end up with a lemon.

I have purchased one too many lemons in my life. I hate to admit it, but it’s true, and it’s all because I was too anxious to ask questions, let alone the right ones.

Don’t make the same mistake. Whether this is your first time buying a used car or you’re a seasoned veteran, you shouldn’t be ashamed or feel embarrassed to ask questions, no matter how silly they might sound.

After all, to feel confident that you’re making a smart purchase, you need an intimate understanding of the car’s condition, features, and capabilities. 

This article will arm you with the most important questions so that you know exactly what to ask when buying a used car from either a private seller or a dealership.

General Questions to Ask

Asking questions is an integral part of the used car buying process. Here are eight general questions that pertain to both dealers and private-party sellers. 

1. What Is The Vehicle’s Condition And Current Mileage?

This is a good opening question as it allows the seller to share any known problems with the car, including obvious flaws with its appearance. It will also lead to a web of follow-up questions.

Learn what is considered good mileage for a used car.

2. Can I See The VIN, The Vehicle Ownership, And Your Identification?

Don’t buy a car that doesn’t have a clear title or one that has a salvage or damaged title. Both cases will make insuring and reselling the vehicle difficult, if not impossible.

Verify that the vehicle has no liens, belongs to the seller, and wasn’t obtained by illegal means. You should also ensure that the registration information and the car’s VIN match.

The VIN itself can be used to look up other details about the car.

3. How Many People Have Owned The Car?

It’s not uncommon for a used car to have had two or more owners. Generally speaking, the fewer the number of owners, the better.

Even though there are well-maintained multiple-owner vehicles out there on the market, a one-owner car is more likely to have a consistent maintenance and driving history. 

Of course, while the number of owners is an important factor of consideration for buying a used car, it shouldn’t be the only decision criteria. A car’s mechanical condition, for one, is far more important than its ownership history.

4. Who Did You Buy The Vehicle From And When?

This question should provide you with even more information about who the previous owners of the vehicle were, how it was driven and maintained, and what has happened to it over its lifespan.

You will find out whether the car was purchased from a private seller or a dealership and a different state/province or country.

5. Was The Vehicle Serviced Regularly? Do You Have Its Service Records?

Cars and trucks need to be serviced regularly to keep running smoothly. Even unserviced vehicles that are not driven for extended periods can develop problems.

Ask the seller about the last time the car was serviced and for a copy of any service records he or she might have.

6. Have You Updated Or Replaced Anything On The Car?

Not only can new or recent updates increase the value of the vehicle should you decide to eventually sell it, but it will also give you an idea of how much money you will need to invest in it later on.

Be aware, however, that some “upgrades” actually hinder the performance of the vehicle than improve it.

7. Do You Have A Vehicle History Report?

Vehicle history reports such as those provided by CarFax and AutoCheck will provide you with an unbiased look at what the car has been through in terms of damages, accidents, recalls, and other issues that the seller didn’t tell you.

If the seller already has the report, ask to see it. If not, get the car’s VIN so that you can purchase one.

8. Can I Take The Car For A Test Drive?

This is a critical part of any vehicle purchase. It will allow you to get intimate with the car, see how it looks and feels inside, how good it operates and drives, and, ultimately, how much of a good it is for your lifestyle.

There are a lot of things to look out for and some tests you can perform to make the most of your test drive. Learn all about them in this comprehensive guide.

Of course, the more time you have for the test drive, the better. If the seller refuses you a test drive without providing a good reason, you may want to consider getting a different car.

9. Can I Take The Car In For An Independent Inspection?

Never buy a used car without first having it inspected by a trusted mechanic. Not that the seller isn’t trustworthy per se, but an independent inspection will give you an expert’s opinion on the true condition of the car.

Make sure to heed any advice he or she provides. Speaking from experience, if the mechanic tells you not to buy the car, DON’T BUY IT no matter how good you think it looks.

10. Can The Car’s Problems Be Fixed Before Purchase?

If a flaw is discovered during the independent inspection, see if it can be fixed before you purchase the vehicle. Sometimes, the cost of a repair can be so exuberant that it’s not worthwhile.

Questions To Ask A Dealer

These additional questions are mostly applicable if you’re buying from a used car dealership.

1. Was The Car Obtained As A Trade-In Or Was It Demo From A Different Dealer? 

A more specific take on the “Where did you get the car from” question. Generally speaking, you’d want it to be a demo car instead of a trade-in.

Demo cars are new vehicles that have been driven exclusively by a dealership’s staff or reserved for prospective customers to test drive, meaning they are generally better maintained than the average used car.

2. What Are Your Financing Options?

Even though used cars are generally cheaper than new cars, they can still be expensive acquisitions for the average person. Knowing what financing options are available will allow you to determine whether the vehicle is financially feasible.

3. Are There Any Discounts Available If I Buy With Cash?

Car dealerships tend to prefer having the full cost of the car paid upfront rather than deal with the hassle of periodic payments, so many of them offer discounts to customers who buy with cash. 

Their preference for cash buyers can also give you additional leverage to negotiate the price of the vehicle. 

4. Will You Accept My Current Car As A Trade-In?

If you’re buying from a new car dealership, you will likely be able to trade in your current model and use its value to offset the cost of your new car. Interested in such a transaction? Ask the dealer if a trade-in is possible.

Questions To Ask A Private Seller

If you’re buying your used car from a private seller, here are several other questions to ask. 

1. Can You Describe The Car’s Appearance?

This question is for when you’re calling the seller to inquire about the car. You won’t have to see the car in person if something comes up during the conversation that turns you off, saving both you and the seller a lot of time.

The information obtained can also be used to compare your options.

2. Why Are You Selling The Car?

There are many reasons why people sell their cars. Perhaps they want something fancier or maybe a lifestyle change has made the vehicle no longer suitable.

Better hope it’s not because of an undisclosed issue with the car.

Either way, find out what the reasons are because you might have to deal with them during your ownership.

Final Thoughts

Buying a used vehicle doesn’t have to be an intimidating experience. By asking the right questions and having the right information, you can navigate the process easily and confidently. 

We armed you with over a dozen excellent questions that will surely make the task easier. Write down the answers to each one you ask and take all necessary actions (perform a test-drive, pre-purchase inspection, etc.) so that you have the information you need to make a more informed decision.

Now that you know what to ask when buying a used car, we suggest also learning what to do after buying a used car.