Top 10 Questions to Ask a Used Car Seller Before You Buy

You’re looking for a new car and you’ve decided to buy used. Smart choice! With the price of junk my car gas and the state of the economy, shelling out all that extra cash for a brand new car when a used car can be just as fuel efficient and a much better deal is like tossing your cash into your car’s fuel tank and literally burning that money away.

Craigslist, eBay, car classifieds, and used car search engines like make finding used cars for sale so much easier than ever before. But you have to be careful-there’s bound to be a few lemons out there that will leave you with more than just a sour taste in your mouth. Making a major purchase like a car-even if, or perhaps especially if, it’s a cheap used car-requires that you do all of your homework. Remain in control and no one will be able to pull the wool over your eyes!

Here are the top ten questions you should ask a used car seller before you sign on the dotted line:


  1. Can you tell me why you’re selling this car? Used car dealerships might not know (but they may know why the last owner sold it to them), but all private sellers you might find through Craigslist, eBay, or car classifieds ought to answer. If possible, watch their facial expressions when they answer, too, in case they’re not being entirely truthful. If they’re moving or can no longer afford payments for the car, the car is more likely to be of higher quality. If it’s because it’s very old or has required many repairs, make sure you know if the price is fair and understand what you’re getting into.
  2. What is the car’s mileage? Car mileage plays a large part in determining the used car’s value. And remember that used car odometers can be tampered with, which is why you should ask…
  3. Will you allow a test drive? Any used car dealership should have no problem letting you test drive their used cars for sale around town. Private sellers might be more reticent, but assure them you’ll allow them to accompany you on the trip. Test drives are essential for noticing problems with the car as well as for making sure that the car is the right fit for you. You’ll also be able to notice if the odometer appears to be “stuck” or has problems.
  4. Will you allow me to make my own inspection? If they’re reputable, both used car dealers and private sellers should have no problem with you bringing the car to a trusted mechanic for a thorough inspection.
  5. Is there a warranty on the car? If you’re buying from a used car dealership, go for the certified used cars. A lot of used car dealerships offer 112-point inspections and two-year/20,000 miles warranties on low- to average-mileage used cars. Some used cars for sale may come with existing factory warranties. When buying from a used car for sale by owner, unless there’s an existing factory warranty, the car is typically sold as-is.
  6. Has this car ever been refurbished or been in an accident? If the used BMW car that’s caught your eye was once in an accident, there might be more damage underneath that freshly-painted coat than meets the eye.
  7. What is the vehicle’s history? Certified used cars and other used cars for sale at used car dealerships ought to come with vehicle history reports. (Oftentimes these are even available when you search for used cars online.) Used cars for sale by owner might have official vehicle history reports, but if they don’t, you should be able to purchase them online at sites like Carfax or Autocheck using the VIN# of the car.
  8. Are you the original owner of this car? If you want quality, it’s best to choose used cars for sale by the original owner-unless each owner of the car used it for a short period of time. This actually isn’t a moot question for a used car dealer, either; it’s possible that car was for sale just a few years ago as a brand-new car and never got off the lot.
  9. What are the car’s special features? If CD player, navigation or GPS system, leather seats, or anything else that’s “extra” is important to you, ask if they’re available in the used car that you’re considering-and if they’re still in good, working condition.
  10. Do you have service or maintenance records for the car? If the owner has kept good records and has followed the manufacturer’s suggestions for scheduled maintenance like changing oil every so many miles, that would be a good indication of how well the car was taken care of.


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