Buying a Used Car? 5 Questions to Ask the Owner


buying a used car

While it’s cheaper than purchasing a new car, buying a used car from a private owner carries some added risk. You don’t have the benefit of being the car’s first owner, so you might be taking on someone else’s problems or mistakes. You have less of an idea of the car’s condition, and in most cases, no warranty to protect you if something goes wrong the day after you bought it. If you are looking for a used car, it’s always a good idea to check out used rental cars that come with both warranties and full histories. But if you’re set on going through a private seller, we have five questions you should always ask when buying a used car!

1. How does it run?

Unless you’re foolish enough to consider buying a used car without a test drive, you’ll find out for yourself how it operates. So why ask? The way the seller answers the question could provide clues. If the seller hesitates or stumbles over the answer, he or she may not feel comfortable disclosing its actual condition. Also, if the owner says it runs great and you hear a lot of knocking during the test drive, it’s probably a good idea to walk away.

2. Why are you selling it?

If the seller provides a legitimate reason without thinking or hesitating, you can trust their motives more than if they nervously search for an response. This question may also help when it comes to negotiation, because you can gauge how motivated the seller is to get rid of the car.

3. Do you have service records?

If you want to increase the chances of buying a reliable used vehicle, find one in which the previous owner kept meticulous service records. How often was the oil changed, the tires rotated and the coolant flushed? Will the car soon be in need of new shocks, brakes or belts? An owner with this information recorded can provide a more accurate picture of the car’s condition–and also a little more peace of mind that he or she cared for it.

4. Has it ever been involved in an accident?

It’s almost never a good idea to buy a car that has been involved in a collision, because it will be prone to more problems. Even if the seller says no, have it checked out or look for signs that it’s been repaired, such as filler spots on the body, evidence of repainting and uneven body lines. A vehicle history report can also help you answer this question. If the seller tells you the car is accident free, and then you determine it’s been damaged and repaired, he or she is either untrustworthy or not knowledgeable about the car’s condition.

5. Does it have a clean title?

Again, don’t take the seller’s word that the car has a clean title. The seller should have the title in hand, and it should be in the seller’s name (unless they are selling it on behalf of an aging parent or similar circumstance). Not having a clean title can cause headaches when you go to register the car in your name.

Though you may not always get an honest answer, these five questions are designed to help you consider “how” the seller answered as much as what he or she actually said. If you ask these questions, and consider the responses carefully, you’ll feel more secure buying a used car!

photo credit: John Lloyd via Flickr cc by 2.0

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Brian Schneider

Brian Schneider

Brian Schneider is a top sales professional with 10 years of fast track experience and visible achievements in competitive business environments. But more importantly knows how to share the best car purchase experience for every customer.
Brian Schneider

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