10 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

10 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

Asking the right questions—particularly if you're buying a used car from a private seller—and knowing the right answers can help you make this decision.

With so many vehicles in the market and at high prices, the pressure gets tougher to make a smart car purchase decision. Asking the right questions—particularly if you’re buying a used car from a private seller—and knowing the right answers can help you make this decision. Ask these questions to make sure you’re buying the best possible used car.

1. How many miles has the vehicle been driven?

If the answer is less than 5,000 or over 20,000 miles per year, find out why. Keep in mind that a vehicle with higher mileage due to highway commutes may have less wear and tear than a car with lower mileage accumulated in stop-and-start city traffic.

2. How is the car equipped?

Even if you already know the car’s features from reading the advertisement, get the owner to talk about cruise control, transmission type, upholstery, air conditioning and other features. This may provide insight into how the vehicle has been treated or how it has performed.

3. What safety features does the vehicle have?

Anti-lock brake systems, electronic stability control, head-protecting side airbags, seat belt adjustment features and “smart” front airbags are all life-saving features that may be worth seeking out (and could save you money on insurance!).

4. What is the vehicle’s condition?

What the seller doesn’t say may be as telling as what he or she does mention. Follow up with specific questions about any areas the seller hasn’t addressed, such as the body of the vehicle, its interior and its mechanical condition.

5. How many owners has the vehicle had?

If there has been only one owner, you’re more likely to get a complete car history. Be suspicious of a vehicle that has changed hands numerous times.

6. Has the vehicle been involved in an accident or flood?

Minor fender benders may not be a concern, but major collisions or flooding can cause serious damage that may be difficult to spot during a casual once-over. Many used car shoppers have gone the route of consulting an impartial third party by ordering a vehicle history report to document any previous major incidents the seller might not want to admit to.

7. Has the vehicle been recalled?

Go to sites like www.safercar.gov to find recall information for the make and model you’re considering, or enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the specific car you’re looking at to find out if it’s been repaired due to a safety recall in the past 15 years.

8. Do you know the vehicle’s service records?

Maintenance records will demonstrate how diligent the owner has been about vehicle upkeep. Even if the seller does have maintenance records, consider taking the vehicle to a mechanic who can tell you if it’s in good repair.

9. Who was the primary driver?

Talking to the principal driver can help you decide if the car was handled responsibly or not. For instance, if you’re a non-smoker, you may want to find out whether anyone smoked frequently in the car.

10. Why is the car up for sale?

If the answer seems evasive, long-winded or implausible, read between the lines. Ask yourself if the car is truly a smart buy.