7 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Car


Now that the average price for a new car has topped $49,500, you may be looking for ways to save money on your next vehicle.

Buying used can be a great option. Used cars don’t depreciate nearly as fast and they’re often still in great shape.

But in order to find a good used car, you must do your research. You wouldn’t want to accidentally buy a car that has major issues or find out later that you paid too much. 

Whether you buy from a dealer or a private seller, you want to verify the vehicle’s condition as well as you can. Start by asking the following questions:

1.) Can I Get The Vehicle History Report?

A vehicle history report is your key to understanding the history of a car. It provides details about past owners, accidents, maintenance, and more.

Most dealerships offer a vehicle history report for free, but you can also get one yourself through Carfax or AutoCheck. All you need is the car’s VIN or license plate number and around $50. 

You can also ask the seller for service records. These will let you know how the vehicle was maintained by various mechanics and dealerships and how much was invested into the car over its lifetime. 

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2.) Has The Car Been Wrecked Or Stolen?

This information may or may not be in the vehicle history report, so it’s always a good idea to ask to be sure. Knowing that a car has been wrecked or stolen isn’t necessarily a deal breaker.

But it allows you to ask follow-up questions like, how were the repairs handled or does the car have a clean title?

3.) What Is The Car’s Ownership History?

Knowing how many different owners a car has had can be very useful information. It tells you how often it’s changed hands over the years relative to when it was made. 

For example, if a 2020 sedan has already had three owners, that may be a sign there’s something wrong with it.

In contrast, if a 2010 truck has only ever had one owner (the current seller), you may feel more comfortable with it because the seller can give you a more comprehensive report on how it was maintained.

The car’s ownership history can also reveal whether the vehicle was used as a ridesharing vehicle, an everyday commuter car, or just to get around town. 

4.) Can I Take It For A Test Drive?

Never buy a car without taking it out for a drive, especially if it’s not new. Test driving gives you the chance to see what a car feels like on the road and can alert you to potential issues you may not have discovered otherwise. 

Drive the car on different types of roads: small residential streets, highways, and inclines. Pay attention to any unusual noises or smells.

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Practice hitting the brakes, changing gears, and accelerating. Consider how the seats feel. Notice everything about the car and whether you like how it feels.

5.) Can I Get A Pre-purchase Inspection?

A pre-purchase inspection is an inspection performed by a professional mechanic before a sale.

It’s meant to give you confidence in your purchase. Any seller should agree to one. If not, you should probably walk away.

A pre-purchase inspection is something you can hire a mechanic to do. Just take the car out on a test drive and tell the seller you’re having it inspected while you’re out. This can cost anywhere from $100 to $200.

That said, many used car dealerships perform pre-purchase inspections. For example, Tiger Okeley at Oak Motors says, “We inspect and recondition every car that we put out for sale so buyers can be confident in their purchase. If a car has issues, we pass it on or sell it at auction.”

A pre-purchase inspection should go over every inch of the car: the bodywork, wheels, engine, upholstery, multimedia system, exhaust, and so on to reveal any potential issues. Some could be minor, while others could be deal breakers. Either way, you want to know. 

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6. Is There A Warranty?

A warranty can help cover future defects or damage to the car. There are three main types of warranties for used cars: leftover factory warranties, certified pre-owned (CPO) warranties, and dealership-provided warranties.

Do your research to understand what kind of coverage (or lack thereof) you are comfortable with. 

Not having a warranty isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. However, it is something you should factor into the deal.

7.) How Did You Arrive At This Price And Is It Negotiable?

If you got through all the above questions and have been satisfied with the answers, the last thing you need to settle is the price.

The seller has probably already set one. Now’s the time to feel out whether it is negotiable.

Start by asking them how they arrived at the price they chose. They may go into the details of the car or share sales data about similar cars in the current market.

Compare what they’re quoting you with what you can find on online resources like Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds. These sites can give you a ballpark estimate of how much the vehicle is worth. 

If you feel comfortable with the price, go for it. If not, ask if the price is negotiable. Then throw out a new figure and explain your reasoning. 

Buying a used car always comes with risk, but if you go through the above questions, it’s easier to weed out the bad deals.

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