Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

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Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


, - June 12, 2018

Used cars can have any number of hidden problems based on their history. So, there are a number of things you should ask when you’re buying a used vehicle. Unlike new cars, you can buy a used vehicle from a dealer or a private seller, and this can impact just what questions you should be asking.

Before Buying from a Used Car Dealer

One of the first things you should do when you’re looking at a used car is ask the dealer for a vehicle history report. A vehicle history report should (but not always) tell you if the car has a clean title, if it’s been in an accident, what its service records look like, and if the mileage you’re seeing on the odometer is correct.

Of course, you won’t get all the information you need this way. So, when you get in the car for a test drive, make sure you check everything. For example:

  • Test all the knobs and dials.
  • Make sure both the heat and air conditioning work.
  • Make sure the radio works.
  • Test the window and mirror controls, and power locks.
  • Make sure the seat adjustments work.
  • Check for the equipment that should come with the car, such as floor mats, cargo nets, and the owner’s manual.
  • Ensure the lights work, inside and out. Don’t forget the turn signals.
  • Make sure the wipers work.

It’s also a good idea to ask the dealer if you can get the vehicle checked out by a trusted mechanic. A pre-purchase inspection is always recommended no matter where you’re getting a used car from. If the dealer refuses, move on to a different vehicle.

Since car dealerships often get trade-ins, make sure you find out if there are any warranties left on the vehicle you’re purchasing, or if there are any extended service plans available. Per federal law, dealers must let you know if the vehicle comes with a warranty or if the car is being sold as-is.

Before Buying from a Private Seller

With a private seller, you’re still going to want to pull a vehicle history report if the seller doesn’t provide one. You should use the same thoroughness when you check out a vehicle from a private seller as you would from a dealer, if not more so.

You should also ask the seller:

  • If they have the title in hand, and if it’s a clean title. It’s also a good idea to find out if the seller is the original owner, and if so, if they’ve been the primary driver.
  • If you can take a test drive and have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic.
  • Why they are selling the car.
  • If they feel the car would hold up on a cross-country road trip tomorrow. Any hesitation here may indicate some issues that can’t be seen on the surface.

Because there are no warranties or guarantees you can get from a private party sale, having the pre-purchase inspection done is a high priority. If the owner is hesitant about letting this happen, it should be a red flag and you should pass on the deal.

Alternatives to Buying Used

If you’re thinking about purchasing a used car because you think your credit is standing in the way of you buying anything else, you might be surprised. At CarsDirect, we specialize in finding dealers that have lenders to work with credit-challenged consumers.

Financing a new car could be closer than you think. So, before you buy the best car you think you can afford, fill out our no-obligation online auto loan request form and see what the dealers we work with can do for you!

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Meghan Carbary has been writing professionally for nearly 20 years. A published journalist in three states, Meghan honed her skills as a feature writer and sports editor. She has now expanded her skill-set into the automotive industry as a content writer for Auto Credit Express, where she contributes to several automotive and auto finance blogs.


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