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9 essential questions to ask when buying a used car

So you’re looking to buy a used car. Maybe you’ve got your sights set on one in particular. But you’d like to ask the right questions to make sure you’re not dropping thousands on a vehicle that’ll brake down three miles from the used car lot.

Buying a used vehicle doesn’t have to be an act of faith. The market for used vehicles is vast and intimidating and some sellers are more than happy to cut an unfair deal at every turn. That doesn’t mean you have to settle. Asking the right questions will allow you to know you’re getting the best deal.

Here’s our list of nine essential questions that will help you get an honest idea of the vehicle you’re about to purchase. Some of these questions can be asked over email or phone, and some are best asked in person. No question will identify the perfect car, but these questions will help highlight any potential problems. Also, check out our guide to the best first cars: the perfect rides for new drivers and best used cars under $15,000. 

Before viewing the vehicle 

Asking questions beforehand will give a better picture of the overall health of the vehicle. Here are the five best questions to ask before meeting.  

1. Why is the owner selling? 

Owners will have a reason for selling their vehicle. In most cases,  asking this question will give you a better idea of the value’s overall value. Answers to this question should usually fall into three basic categories:

  • Looking to sell right away. This is usually is good for the buyer. You can talk these people down.
  • Looking for the right price. These are usually good cars but it’s harder to get a lower price and the owners are willing to wait.  
  • Doesn’t provide a clear answer. This is a bad sign. Could indicate that something is wrong with the car, and they’re trying to sell it anyway. 

2. How many previous owners? 

This is a good indication of any major reoccurring problems with the vehicle. Any vehicle that has two or more owners is less than desirable.  In my experience, sellers are willing to provide a history of the ownership. It’s usually a bad sign if the owner doesn’t know or isn’t willing to disclose a list of previous owners. 

3. Has the vehicle been in extreme weather?

Owners should be hesitant to purchase older cars that have been driven in extreme temperatures. Buying a car that was driven through winters in Minnesota or summers in Texas will significantly decrease the lifespan of a vehicle.   

4. Has the vehicle been involved in any accidents? Is the title salvaged? 

The fact is, vehicles with salvaged titles are more likely to have problems. The owner will most likely tell you the truth, considering you’ll be able to see any visible damage when you view the car. And every title should indicate if the vehicle has been involved in any accidents. Additionally, some states have lax policies on identifying salvaged titles. In some cases, a car can escape it’s salvaged title when moved to another state.

5. How many miles?

It’s good to know the vehicle’s mileage for two reasons. 1.) you can research insurance quotes beforehand and 2.) you match what the owner tells you to the actual odometer reading when you test drive the car. Be worried if anything seems inconsistent. 

When you’re viewing the vehicle

Here are the four best question to ask when assessing the vehicle in-person. 

6.  Ask to have vehicle examined by a licensed mechanic

It’s always a good idea to have the vehicle examined by a licensed mechanic. It’s also a good opportunity to gauge the owner. Be nervous of any owner who tries to talk you out of getting the vehicle inspected. Granted, there are some valid excuses. For example, if the owner still depends on the car for transportation and can’t afford to part with his car for an afternoon

7. Ask to see maintenance records, receipts, and title. 

Best case scenario, the owner will have proof of frequent maintenance. For example, he’ll show you proof of his last three oil changes and have any reports of repairs on the vehicle. If the owner cannot produce these documents, beware, they could try to be hiding something from you. Additionally, it could be important to see the receipts. That way, you can get a good estimate how much it’ll cost to maintain. 

8. Ask for a test drive.

This one’s a deal-breaker. If the owner denies your request to test drive the vehicle, then you can be pretty sure that there’s some major problem with the car. You should never buy without test driving. When you do test drive, make sure to see how it performs at higher speeds. 

9. Ask to reduce the price.

There are advantages to buying a used vehicle. Oftentimes, you can get a sweet deal, if you know what you’re doing. It’s okay to ask how low the owner is willing to go. This is especially effective if you identify any possible setbacks to the vehicle. 

That’s it! Did you find our list of questions to ask before buying a used car, helpful? Do we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.