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Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

By Kathleen Burgess


Updated on

People tend to regret their purchase sometimes, no matter how affordable the price is. However, that reaction can be normal depending on the situation. Who wants to waste their money on a subpar or defective product anyway? Car buyers are no exception to possible regrets after purchase. That’s why if you are planning to buy a secondhand vehicle, keep in mind the following questions to ask when buying a used car:

Who was the owner of this car?

This is one of the most basic questions. It does not matter if it is a lie or not but when the seller directly answers you, then he just passed your first test. If the seller cannot give you a direct answer, then you are ready to move along and find another seller. Other ways to evaluate the seller’s answer is by looking at facial cues and other gestures. Yes, you might have to channel the inner psychologist in you.

Can I check the car’s history?

The maintenance history of a used car is difficult to manipulate. It is beyond the seller’s control. It may not have all the information about the vehicle, but it contains an essential ones for car buyers to evaluate. Never forget to ask this when you are facing a used car seller. You must not make a final decision just by looking at the car.

Why are you selling it?

A trick to make this question more effective is by saying it out of the blue. Most liars become uneasy when they are asked on the spot. There are so many potential reasons why a seller would lie about the car such as extreme malfunction of hidden parts or its troubling history.

Is the car paint original?

New paint job can represent that the car has undergone a lot of repairs and fixes. Some buyers may be okay with this, but it does not mean that you have to say yes as well. It is your money, so make sure that you are 100% happy with your purchase in the end.

Can my mechanic check this out?

If you have a good friend who is an auto mechanic or just a plain expert regarding cars, let him accompany you when you are going out to check used vehicles for sale. The question is a useful one for people who do not know much about the advanced technical aspects of cars.

Every buyer has the right to know how reliable the used car is. So, it is unfair for car novices if they can only decide based on the seller’s convincing words. When the seller becomes defensive about your question and firmly says no, you might want to check other sellers.

Can I check the oil?

Just by checking the oil yourself, you can discover a lot of major flaws. That’s how important this question is. If the oil contains fuel, it possibly means that the car has malfunctioning internal parts. If the foam is white, it is a gentler warning that the car has not been used for a while.  Water in the oil can just be condensation, which is normal for unused old cars.

Can you place it on a lift?

Most private sellers cannot grant this request. This is more applicable in dealerships. Just a heads up, there are several differences between private sellers and dealerships. So, it is important to carefully decide on where to buy a used car in the first place.

The question may not be one of the basic ones but if you are knowledgeable about auto mechanics, you can benefit greatly from this. When a car is lifted, you can spot rust and leaks beneath it. Not all dealers keep up with this extra precaution from the buyer, so it all depends on how you a handle a no.

Can I do a test drive?

Three of the most important points you will learn during and after a test drive are the sounds of the engine, the quality of the synchromesh, and the reliability of the check engine light. Sometimes, a buyer can hear weird sounds coming from the engine during the test drive. Another revelation can be a worn-out synchromesh. One of the worst surprises as soon as you step inside the car for a test drive is a concealed check engine light – thanks to a sticker. Once the seller does not give you a chance to do a test drive, back out at once.

Will my purchase come with new equipment?

You can only ask this in a dealership. You will definitely pay more money if you let the dealer add more equipment in the car. But, with good negotiation, the dealer can give you new tires or a timing belt without spending a huge amount of money on top of the settled price. Your car may even be intended for free equipment in the first place, way before you asked the question.

Can I see the title?

There is no excuse for a lost title. Every car seller must have that in hand. Do not believe a seller who insists that he has the title without actually showing it. If the title indicates a different name, that is already a red flag. This is a crucial question because if you are fooled big-time, you will have a difficult time with the DMV.

Can I trade in my old car?

Alas, the question car owners must ask before signing papers. A foolproof way to graciously let go of the old car is by trading it to a dealership. You do not have to post online ads anymore because a dealer can definitely purchase your old car. After all, you are buying your new vehicle in a used car dealership.

Another fantastic deal out of this is you can use the dealer’s offer as part of your down payment for your new car. Talking about killing two birds with one stone. You will have other fees after purchasing a used car, so lessen your expenses by decreasing the down payment via trade-in.


Aside from money, use your head as well when you are buying a used car. Being sharp-minded during a deal or negotiation gives you a more affordable price and an incredible car despite its history with the previous owner. Always speak your mind in front of the seller professionally. You will end up regretting your purchase if you act as a yes-man all the time.

In case you want to be a private seller in the future, check out our tips on how to sell a used car!

About Kathleen Burgess

Kathleen started her career in journalism writing about cars during her Journalism degree at CUNY and even though she didn't like it at first, she quickly became an ace, writing news, reviews and comparisons like one of the best car writers out there. Today she writes content focusing on the latest trends in the car industry, looking at sales, policies and green alternatives. Learn more about GCB's Editorial Process.

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