Buying a car, whether new or used, is a huge investment and you don't want to rush the process. In addition to buyer's remorse from picking the wrong vehicle, you risk overpaying or buying a lemon. When you purchase a used vehicle from a car lot or private seller, you need to be thorough. You will have many questions before buying a car, and some important ones can slip through the cracks. Use the list of questions below as your secret weapon when you're talking to a private seller or to a salesperson at the dealership. 

Questions To Ask When Buying a Used Car

woman buying a used car

You gain a lot by buying a used car instead of a brand new one. Not only will the initial price tag be lower, but you'll avoid the high depreciation of new vehicles. The average transaction price of a new car is around $37,000, while the average used car price is $20,000. On average, a new car depreciates 10% in the first month and 20% in the first year. When you buy used, the original owner already took on the bulk of this depreciation.

Buying a used car isn't foolproof, however. It's your responsibility to evaluate the car as well as its seller to make sure you're not buying junk or overpaying. The following 5 questions not only give you more info about the vehicle itself, but you can evaluate how the seller replies and gage if they are being truthful.

person buying a car from a private seller
Before you fork over the cash and take the keys, make sure you trust the seller.

1. How long have you owned the car?

This is an important question to ask a private seller to learn more about the car's history. In an ideal scenario, the seller was the original owner. This allows you to evaluate if they are responsible and treated the vehicle with care. If the seller is not the original owner, has only owned the vehicle for a short time, and has no details to disclose about its previous owners, it should be taken as a warning sign. 

2. How many miles are on the car? 

You may be wondering "can't I just look at the odometer or trust what the seller posts online?" Not so fast. While we'd recommend trusting people most of the time, used car shopping is an exception and it pays to be a skeptic. "How many miles are on the car?" will be a leading question that gets you more insight on how the vehicle was used. According to Consumer Reports, if the mileage is unusually high (over 20,000 miles) or low (under 5,000 miles) ask why. A long commute on a highway is generally better than many stop-and-go trips or a history of the car being used for deliveries. 

mechanic servicing car

3. What is the car's service history?

The vehicle's service history will provide valuable information about its condition and reliability. Ask the seller where the car was serviced. If the response is a dealership, reputable mechanic, or body shop chain, you'll have more confident purchasing the vehicle than if the mechanic was the seller's next-door neighbor who "dabbles" in car repair, for example. A good follow up question is "do you have service records for the vehicle?" A trustworthy seller may have saved all the records in one place and you'll be able to see how often the car was maintained and the nature of repairs. 

4. Do you have the vehicle title?

If the seller has the title in hand, the purchase will go much smoother. The reason that the owner doesn't have a title can be valid (they misplaced it or the title is with a bank due to an outstanding loan). A missing title can also indicate there is something shady about the seller. Because a title shows the legal owner of the vehicle, a missing one can indicate the vehicle is stolen or has a salvage title that the seller is hiding (not a good purchase). 

5. Can I take the car to get inspected by a mechanic? 

This is a question that should be reserved only for the time when you're seriously considering buying the car. Reputable sellers who have nothing to hide will usually not hesitate to accommodate this request. In fact, they should be excited because it's the final step you'll take before going through with the purchase. A seller who is hesitant or insists that you take their word that the car is in good condition should raise a red flag. They may be trying to hide previous accidents or mechanical problems.

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Questions to Ask When Buying a New Car

Couple asking car dealer questions

Buying a new car protects you from some of the risks of buying used, but you still have to do your due diligence to avoid overpaying for the vehicle or misunderstanding the terms of the warranty or financing. There is a lot to distract you at a new car dealership between all the models to consider, the test drives, and the price negotiations. All these moving parts can cause some crucial questions to fall to the backburner. When you're at the dealership talking to the car salesperson, make sure you ask the following 5 questions to get a thorough understanding of the vehicle you're about to purchase.

1. What is the total cost with all the mandatory fees? 

The vehicle's MSRP is not the final price you'll pay. The dealership tacks on a list of fees some of which are negotiable and some are mandatory. When you ask this question, you may encounter destination fees, dealer preparation fees, documentation fees, advertising fees, and title and registration fees. The dealership will not typically negotiate on destination, documentation, and title and registration fees but they may be willing to budge on the rest. Regardless of whether or not you're able to dodge some of these fees, it's important to know the complete cost of purchasing a new car including the hidden fees

2. What is the car's warranty coverage?

Vehicle warranties will vary by manufacturer as well as the specific model and year of the car. New cars come with a standard manufacturer warranty that will cover repairs to factory-installed parts. There is also an option to get a powertrain warranty or extended warranty from the dealership. Before you purchase an additional warranty, ask about the included warranties and how long your car will be covered. Usually, the bumper-to-bumper warranty is good for 3 years or 30,000 miles. 

car loan at the dealership

3. What are the terms of my loan and interest rate? 

By the time you get into the F&I (Finance and Insurance) office, you may be mentally drained from the long car buying process, but this is no time to let your guard down. Your car loan terms and interest rates are just as important as the price of the vehicle itself. If you didn't bring your own financing to the dealership, you need to ask about the specifics of the car loan offer the finance manager presents. Remember that it's a good idea to avoid the topic of monthly payments entirely until after you agree on the price of the car. 

4. How many miles are on the car?

Don't expect every new car at the dealership to have an odometer reading of 0. The dealership's salespeople could have used it as a demo vehicle for test drives or even driven it for a short amount of time themselves to learn its features. A few miles shouldn't be a problem, but if there are more than 300 miles, you should ask the salesperson for a discount or ask for a different vehicle with fewer miles.

tinted car windows
The price of aftermarket features the dealership adds like tinted windows can be negotiated. 

5. Have any aftermarket features been added?

You may find some car dealers will add aftermarket features to a vehicle and attempt to charge more for the car as a result. Aftermarket features are outside of the scope of what is installed at the factory and can include tinted windows or security systems. If you're not looking for these features, ask if you can purchase a vehicle without them or if you can negotiate on the price of the add-ons. 

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