Questions You Should Be Sure to Ask When Buying a Used Car

Navigating car sales has been a difficult task over the past few years as we’re still dealing with the global chip shortage that has caused sticker prices to skyrocket. Even used car prices are seeing a hike as supply lacks and demand goes through the roof. After Hurricane Ida, several drivers fell victim to purchasing water-logged cars sold by fraudsters. Between scams and high prices, buying a car can seem intimidating. We recommend asking a few of these questions, provided by Driving Tests, on your next trip to the dealership.

The first things to ask when buying a used car

A used car lot where people go when buying a used car.
Used car dealership | Getty Images

When you find a car that piques your interest, you should call or email the dealership to start a conversation. Depending on the answers provided, the car might not even be worth seeing in person.

Used car websites typically list a vehicle’s condition, as well as how many miles are on the odometer. You can confirm those facts with the dealership. If the listing shows the vehicle has been in an accident, you should always ask for additional details.

A minor fender-bender or simple cosmetic damage to an otherwise good car shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. However, if the accident resulted in severe structural damage, the car probably won’t last as long as it should. There may also be hidden issues that could make the car unsafe to drive, even if it passes inspection right now.

This is especially true if the car has a salvage title after being declared a total loss. If it doesn’t have a vehicle history report online, ask the dealership how many previous owners had the car. If it has been serviced regularly throughout its life, it usually doesn’t matter how many people had it before you.  That’s why it’s essential to ask for the vehicle’s maintenance records!

You should also check online for any open recalls on the vehicle. If some exist, confirm with the dealer the problem has been repaired.

Meeting the potential car of your dreams

When it’s time to see the car for yourself, you’ll find out if the pictures you saw online were accurate! Walk along the entire outside of the vehicle to check for any dents or scratches that may have been left out in its description. Next, sit inside each row to get a good view of the entire interior. 

If you notice any odors or stains, you should check with the dealer about the previous owners. Did any of them own pets or children? Did a smoker ever own the vehicle? 

While stains from spilled drinks and pet hair are easier to remove, cigarette smoke is a different story. It can seep inside the foam under the seats and become nearly impossible to clean thoroughly. 

Appearances aren’t always everything

Never commit to buying a car without asking to test drive it first. A private seller that gets agitated about this question might have something to hide. On the other hand, a reputable dealership will always encourage you to take the car for a spin. If you’re getting the vehicle delivered from an online dealership, take a quick drive before the delivery person leaves.

However, many people skip this crucial step. They don’t ask if they can have a mechanic inspect the car before buying it. Don’t skip this if you’re buying a car from an online vendor either. While most dealerships perform rigorous inspections already, it’s never bad to get a second opinion. 

So how do you actually go about buying a used car?

If everything checks out, be prepared to complete a lot of paperwork. Unless you’re paying with cash, you’ll need to get financing from your bank or through the dealership. Once a deal is reached, you’ll get the title signed over and add your signature to several purchase documents.

The entire process usually takes a few hours to complete. Be glad you already got answers to all the essential questions beforehand.

RELATED: 6 Things You Should Be Doing During a Used Car Test Drive