February 18

Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car


You’ve probably heard the saying: “It is better to prepare and prevent than it is to repair and repent.”

When it comes to buying a used car online, it’s not all about getting a good price.

It’s important to get some perspective about an advertised vehicle and the seller before you decide whether it’s worth a trip to take a closer look. Think of this process as an interview to ensure no hidden problems will surface once you extend your hand and sign the contract. It’s also a great chance to use your leverage to obtain a sweeter deal.

So before saying “yes” to a used car, here’s a list of basic questions you should ask to help you fill your needs and rule out some vehicles before ever leaving your home.

1. How many miles has it been driven?

A vehicle’s mileage helps determine its value. If the odometer has a significantly high mileage, ask why. A car with high mileage due to the owner having long highway commutes is better than a low mileage car that did a lot of short trips or was used for a delivery route. This information will also be important during negotiations. Always research and determine the car’s value before meeting the seller.

2. How is the condition of the vehicle?

Pay attention to how the seller responds to this question. Make sure to ask follow-up questions. Be specific about the vehicle’s structural and mechanical condition.  

buying used car

3. Why is the owner selling the vehicle?

Be aware if the seller says something odd or tries to evade the question by telling an interesting story. Likewise, if the seller answers your question nervously, it’s not a good sign. Look for a reasonable explanation. You don’t want to end up buying a “piece of junk.”

On the other hand, some sellers are going to be honest. They might say something like, “It drinks a lot of gas,” or “I just bought a new car.” Take advantage of the situation when you hear answers like these.

4. Are they the original owner?

If the seller is the original owner of the car, great! He or she should have all the maintenance records.

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If the seller isn’t the original owner, ask for a record of previous owners. If they don’t have these records or if the vehicle has had more than one previous owner, you should be able to find some basic information from a vehicle history report (VHR).

5. Where did the seller originally buy the vehicle?

Knowing the previous owners isn’t enough. It’s important to know from which state the car was bought.

Laws are different from state to state. Some states allow used vehicles to be sold with little concern about their history. This means even if the seller is the original owner, he or she could move from one state to another state and clear the title of any negative records, such as a salvage label. Moreover, information about a car’s geographical background can imply potential weather-related problems. A vehicle’s past locations can cause some significant damage, such as extreme heat, flooding, or snow and icy road conditions.

6. Has the car had any recent or major repairs?

Has the vehicle ever been involved in an accident? Vehicles that have had repairs or that have been in collisions are more likely to give you a lot of headaches. They’re also worth less. Watch the seller’s response.

buying used car

7. Are they offering to let you see the service records?

Be picky. Ask for any records the seller has for the car, including things as simple as tire replacement or oil changes. An owner who is meticulous enough to keep maintenance records probably takes good care of the vehicle.

8. Do they have a title in-hand?

Don’t just take the seller’s word for it; make sure they have a title (or equivalent paperwork) ready for when you agree to close the deal.    

9. How long will the seller allow you to take the vehicle for a test drive?

Do your best to avoid buying a used car without a test drive. If the seller denies you a test drive, it may be time to walk away. Some sellers, such as government agencies, may not allow test drives for legal reasons. If this is the case in your situation, consider how well you trust the seller’s information about the vehicle.

If you’re granted a test drive, it’s time to be picky. Usually a test drive is limited to less than 30 minutes. This is your best chance to discover any issues with the vehicle, so use your time efficiently.

You should test the car on multiple road surfaces and at varying speeds. Try to simulate whatever type of driving you do on a daily basis, such as highway driving or in stop-and-go traffic. See how the vehicle merges with traffic. Take several corners and turns. Are you comfortable with the seat? Can you clearly see the instruments and access the controls easily? How difficult is it when reversing into a parking space?   

10. Will the seller allow you to write down the VIN?

Having the VIN will allow you to obtain a full vehicle history report (VHR) from a company like Carfax. This is especially important if the seller is not the original owner of the car or if any records are missing. It’s never a bad idea – no matter how much information a seller offers you – to get a full VHR.

11. Can you have the vehicle inspected independently?

If the seller hesitates, it’s a warning sign. Look for that one answer: “Yes, no problem!” Get a mechanic you can trust to look at the car. This is the best (and safest) way to find out what’s really going on underneath the hood and to address any problems that could flare up later.

12. How much is the seller asking for the car?

This question suggests that the quoted price by the seller should be negotiable. Depending on how long the car has been on the market, the seller might come back with a decent discount.

The more information you have about a used car, the better. Asking these questions will give you a good idea about whether you should consider taking a vehicle home with you or not. It also provides you with a record of a seller’s responses. You’ll be able to discover any conflicts between what the seller told you and what you see during the test drive and inspection.

Are you in the market for buying a used car? Municibid provides an easy and convenient online auction platform that allows you to find great deals on used vehicles being sold by government agencies. Find deals near you here.


buying used cars, Carfax, government auction, test drive, Vehicle History Report, VHR, VIN

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