Top 11 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

Many of us can’t afford or don’t want to purchase a new car. While checking a list of used cars available, you should be aware of the fact that each of them has a history. While new vehicles are almost the same, the used cars of the same model can be vastly different. It directly depends on a few factors, including possible accidents, the way of parking (on the street or a garage), or the regularity of service.

Unfortunately, dealers won’t have much information, except for an essential vehicle history report, since they usually purchase cars at an auction. On the other hand, you can get a lot of necessary information from a private seller. Let’s see a list of the crucial questions to ask when buying a used car.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

1. The reason the owner sells the car

I am always curious about the reason for selling the car. The answer to such a simple question can give you an underlying hint about the owner’s intentions. You want to hear simple responses such as:

  • I don’t need two cars anymore
  • I want a different vehicle (cheaper; more beautiful; bigger; smaller; different model)

Be suspicious if the seller starts a long story and give you too complicated answers.

2. The vehicle history

When I purchase a used car, it is the second question I always ask. It is crucial to know what was happening with that particular car from the day it left the factory until you picked it out as your favorite.

That simple question includes all the essential information, including accidents, mileage, the way of its maintenance, and the number of previous owners. If the seller can’t answer most of these questions, you should take it as a potential warning sign.

3. Vehicle identification number

Vehicle identification number

Every vehicle in the US has that 17-digit number. It will allow you to get a Carfax vehicle history report with all relevant data. Even though this will cost you $40, it is worth paying for. You can’t be fooled if you have critical information in front of you, including those regarding regular service, registration, reported accidents, and eventual repairs.

4. The availability of service records

No one seller wants to report car flaws voluntarily. However, most of them will show you the service records if the car was serviced regularly.

Everyone who takes care of their car will have records of scheduled tune-ups, oil changes, brake pad replacements, radiator flushes, new windshield wipers, tire rotation, and new tires. If the vehicle is well-maintained, there will probably not be any surprises.

On the other hand, the absence of a full-service history doesn’t have to be a big deal. Some people are not well-organized types and don’t realize the importance of keeping these records.

5. Frequency of repairs and regular maintenance

Well-spaced out repairs will show you that this particular car is maintained regularly and carefully. If you notice that there are a lot of recent repairs, you should be suspicious. Moreover, if the seller’s story doesn’t line up with service records, you should give up buying.

6. Possible issues or repairs that need to be made

Possible issues or repairs that need to be made

The owner is almost always aware of severe problems and necessary repairs, including a weak air conditioner, broken blinker, missing pixels in displays, malfunctioning CD player, and weird noise while driving. Don’t expect the sellers to give this information voluntarily, but most of them won’t lie if you ask a question directly.

7. Would you drive this car between the two coasts tomorrow?

It is actually a trick question, and it can throw the owner off balance. If his or her answer is YES, you can have a bit more confidence in that person about the car.

8. The ownership history

In an ideal case, you should look for a used car with just one previous owner. However, it can be a few of them, which often depends on the age of the vehicle. If the seller has owned the car for a short time, he or she won’t know about the crucial details you want to know.

Avoid the one that passed through too many hands since it may mean that the car has expensive upkeep needs or recurring mechanical issues. It usually includes low maintenance and irregular service work without complete service records.

9. The status of the title

The status of the title

It is one of the crucial questions because the title shows who is the real owner of the car. You need a vehicle with complete documentation with the seller’s name on them. Don’t hesitate to ask for it and insist on immediate signing over to your name.

Having a salvage title means that the insurance company estimated that the car worth less than the repair costs. Avoid this car because it probably had a horrible accident, which harmed it irreplaceably.

Sometimes a longtime owner can’t find the title or don’t have it when there is an outstanding loan. It is not too hard solving these issues if you are absolutely interested in buying that particular vehicle.

10. The way of determining the price and considering the bargain

You can’t believe how many people pick out the price of the car without careful consideration and checking. You can always use a pricing guide to see if the asking cost is correct.

Don’t be shy about bargaining. The worst result of asking will be a strict NO. However, there is a possibility that the owner accepts to negotiate on price.

In some cases, he or she has given a little bit higher price because they enjoy bargaining. For example, you can start from 10% less than the asking price, and you will see how things are going.

11. Ask about taking the car for an inspection and test driving

It is worth paying approximately $100 for a mechanic to check the engine, transmission, brakes, and overall condition of the car. Don’t ask this question before you are ready to buy that particular vehicle.

If you offer to pay for the inspection and the seller agrees, it won’t be a problem in most cases, but it would be helpful to have a reserved schedule. It is not rare that a seller doesn’t want to hold the car for a couple of days.

The reason to give up on shopping is refusing the inspection. Plus, keep in mind that some mechanics have a note in the contract protecting them from liability. So, be careful.

Also, it is unlikely that the owner will agree to give you to drive the car without his or her presence, and it is OK. However, never buy a car without a test drive!