It’s estimated that a new car loses 11 percent of its value once it’s driven off the lot. For many, that makes buying a used car worth doing the homework.
Start by asking some basic questions, especially when you’re buying from a private party. The answers can help you determine whether it’s worth a trip to take a closer look. Any strange answers should put you on guard.
8 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car
1. “How many miles has it been driven?” If the vehicle was driven more than 20,000 miles per year or less than 5,000, ask why. Long highway commutes are easier on a vehicle than a lot of short trips or ‘stop-and-go’ driving. Still, take any claim with a grain of salt. Low mileage is nice, but is no guarantee of gentle care.
2. “How is it equipped?” Whether they’re listed in the ad or not, ask about key features: transmission type; A/C; antilock brakes; air bags; sound system; power windows, locks, seats, and mirrors; cruise control; sunroof; upholstery material; and so forth.
3. “What is the car’s condition?” Start with this broad question and see where the seller takes it. He or she could bring up something you wouldn’t have thought to ask about.
4. “How about the body and interior?” If these areas weren’t covered in the discussion above, ask about them specifically.
5. “Has it been in an accident?” If yes, ask about the extent of the damage, the cost of repairs, and the shop that did the work. Don’t worry too much about minor scrapes, but think twice about a car that has been in a serious crash.
6. “Do you have service records?” You want a car that has been well cared for. It should have had maintenance performed at regular intervals manufacturer-specified intervals. If the owner claims to have done the maintenance but can’t produce any receipts for parts, be skeptical. Ask for receipts for any new muffler, brakes, tires, or other “wear” parts that have been replaced.
7. “Has the car been recalled?” Ask if any safety-recall work was performed or, more important, still needs to be done. Dealerships keep records of that. Additionally, perform your own research. Search online for issues affecting the vehicle you are interested in buying.
8. “Why are you selling the car?” Look for a plausible explanation rather than an interesting story. If the answer sounds evasive, be wary. If you’re looking for tips on buying a used car, check out this helpful infographic. It includes 11 more questions to ask when buying a used car and a used car checklist to help you inspect a car for the first time.