Buying a Car

9 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

Meg Stefanac | February 12, 2014
Woman wondering what questions to ask about buying a used car.

The purchase of a used car is a major decision that you should take with care. By obtaining answers to the following questions, you can be sure that you are making a clear and informed decision about your car or truck before you make the purchase.

Questions to Research Before You Begin Your Vehicle Search

If you have a specific car in mind ahead of time, take the time to research it online before you head to the car dealership. If you have found a car that you are unfamiliar with and it seems like a great deal, you may want to do a quick check on it using a smartphone, or if that is unavailable, on a computer at home. Some sales people may even let you do a quick online search using their PC if they think that it will lead to a sale.

The following are some important car buying questions you will want to check up on:

What Kind of Mileage Does the Vehicle Get?

With fuel prices as high as they are these days, gas mileage is an important consideration when buying a car, particularly if you do a lot of driving. Make sure you know what you are getting into before you make your purchase.

When buying a used car, you can do a quick search online to get that vehicle’s fuel estimates. Remember, however, that older cars frequently get fewer miles per gallon than they did when they were new. This can have to do with parts wearing out, carbon buildup in the manifold or other issues that are common with age.

Is It a Reliable Vehicle?

The longer your vehicle lasts you, the less it ends up costing you per mile driven. For most people, a vehicle is a vital part of day-to-day life. If you use your vehicle to get to work, to pick your kids up from clubs or sports practice or to do your grocery shopping, the last thing you want to experience is a mechanical failure while you are on the road.

Used cars are easy to research for their reliability, as much as been reported on them. Be certain you are not spending your money on a vehicle that will spend more time in the shop than it will on the road.

Questions to Ask at the Car Dealership

Once you have narrowed your search down to a few vehicles, the following car buying questions can help you make your final choice:

How Many Miles Are on the Vehicle?

Something to consider with regard to mileage is upcoming maintenance work. For example, many car manufacturers recommend that the timing belt be replaced every 60,000 or 70,000 miles. If you are buying a used vehicle with 55,000 miles on it, you can expect to have this expense in the near future. If the vehicle has 80,000 miles, you may want to ask about previous service work and if any service records are available.

What Are the Associated Transaction Fees?

Some dealerships tack on a number of transaction fees at the time of your car purchase. These can vary from dealership to dealership and state to state. These fees are usually documentation or administrative fees, which may cost about $30 and up. Some people are so excited about their impending purchase, they do not even notice. Others may be too embarrassed to argue about them; but don't let that be the case for your used car purchase.

Ask up front what the fees associated with your transaction will be. You may even be able to negotiate lower fees or none at all if the salesperson really needs to make the sale.

How Much Does the Vehicle Cost when All Is Said and Done?

In addition to any dealership fees that may be tacked on to your purchase price, you will also have to pay title transfer and notary fees. These will vary from state to state. Be sure to consider this in your final cost. Also, when the salesperson is talking about how much your monthly payment will be, be sure to focus not on that but on what the final cost to you will be after the interest is factored in.

The other thing to think about is how much a used car will cost to insure. You have to have a certain amount of car insurance (or pay a fee to be exempted, depending on your state's regulations) for liability, but you may also want to purchase collision, comprehensive, or uninsured motorist coverage, too. Your lender might require collision and comprehensive for the life of your loan. Just make sure you're aware of what you need to carry and how much that will cost you. It might be a good idea to contact a Trusted Choice® independent agent to get several quotes quickly before you go with any insurance company in particularly. Independent agents can often find more discounts than other big-name insurers.

By doing this, you will have a clear picture of how much you will be paying for your vehicle in the end. You can use this number to compare the purchase price to other vehicles you may be considering.

What Sorts of Warranties Can I Expect?

You may be able to get a manufacturer warranty on a pre-owned, certified car from a dealer. Ask about the warranty period, the coverage inclusions and whether there will be any fees or deductibles.

In addition to asking what is included in the warranty, be sure to ask what the exclusions are. This can help you avoid being in a situation where you thought you had coverage but find yourself with a large service bill instead.

Has This Car Experienced Any Known Damage?

This is a very important question for used car buyers. Cars damaged by floods or accidents may show signs of rust or paint deterioration. You can get a vehicle’s history through a used car report as long as you have its VIN number. Many car dealers will offer to run this report for you at no charge. If the dealership seems like a shady one, however, you may want to do it on your own.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Sign on the Dotted Line

Finally, once the dealer has answered your questions to your satisfaction, you have two important things to ask yourself:

Do I Really Like this Car?

This may seem like an obvious question, but sometimes, while shopping around and test driving several vehicles, it gets lost in the equation. Just because you have found a great deal on a car does not necessarily mean that it is the best choice for you.

Think about how you will feel seeing this car parked in your driveway or garage. Does the thought make you smile? Get back in the vehicle, and imagine yourself sitting in it for a long road trip. Is it comfortable? Many people consider their cars to be an extension of their personalities. Does this car match yours? Keep in mind all the things that are important to you when it comes to vehicles, and make sure this car is suitable. If not, keep looking. You may find a better car elsewhere.

Can I Do Better?

Granted, buying a used car isn’t like choosing a spouse, but it is still a big commitment. Be sure that you are getting the best possible deal and that you are not just settling. You don’t want to spend the next couple of years thinking, “I should have bought the other one.”

Ask yourself whether there was a car you liked more. Was there another car you liked as much that was a better deal or less expensive? Do you think it’s possible to talk the salesperson down to a lower price? If you are satisfied that you are getting a great deal on a car that you love, go for it.

Are there other important questions that we didn’t cover in this article? Let us know in the comments.

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