A Deal For a Steal: What to Ask When Buying a Used Car
Buying a second-hand car is a great way to save money on a vehicle – but it’s important you do your research before handing over any cash.
A car might look perfect on the surface, but if you don’t know anything about its history you could end up buying a dud. Knowing what to ask when buying a used car will make sure you’re not going to end up with a money drain or unreliable motor.
When you look like you know your stuff about cars, a seller is also less likely to try and escalate the price or rip you off. Arm yourself with the right information before making a purchase: take these questions with you to ensure you get a genuine deal.
What to Ask When Buying a Used Car: 8 Essential Questions You Need Answering Before You Pay Up
Don’t get talked into buying a car that’s not right for you – or one that’s going to fail as soon as you get three miles down the road. Ask these questions and make sure the seller answers them to your satisfaction before you agree to buy!
1. Has This Vehicle Been in Any Accidents?
It’s essential to check the car history for any fender benders or major accidents.
Accidents cause obvious damage, such as door dents, but can also affect the structural integrity and safety elements of a car. Even if major repairs have been undertaken, it’s important to check this out in detail to confirm the car is as safe as it would be without the accident.
Check the car for signs of an accident, rather than relying on the seller’s response. A good trick is to look for areas of paint that look a slightly different color to the rest of the car. This is a sign that bodywork has been done, often as a result of an accident.
2. Can I View the Underside of the Vehicle?
If the seller won’t let you put the car on a lift or let you slide underneath the chassis, walk away.
Many buyers won’t think to check the underneath of a car but this is where common problems occur. Even an untrained eye can spot rust, leaks, and bent axles or other obvious damage.
You can also check the engine to see if it’s dry: if you see damp areas, this is a sign of coolant leaks. If you’re not confident checking the condition of the underside of the car, take someone with you who is more familiar with how a vehicle should look underneath.
Make sure you check the engine from the top, too. Ask to check the oil and other essentials: if these are low, it’s a sign the car hasn’t been well cared for.
3. Has It Got a Full-Service History?
Ask to see paperwork to confirm the full service and maintenance history of the vehicle. This will tell you if the car has been well looked after, or has been neglected – which could lead to problems.
A car that hasn’t had a service every year, for example, may have been running with dirty oil. This will affect the efficiency of the engine, causing friction and excessive wear.
If there is no service history available, but you’re serious about buying the car, ask if you can arrange for an independent mechanic to check it over for any hidden problems.
4. Who Was the Previous Owner?
Knowing who owned the car can help you to understand how the vehicle has been used.
For example, a family with young children will have likely covered many miles and the interior will have been through a lot of stress. On the other hand, a retiree who used the car once a week for the grocery shop will have put fewer miles on the clock and less stress on the interior and features.
If there’s more than one previous owner, try to find out about them, too.
5. Can You Show Me the Wipers, Windows, and Lights?
Ask the seller to show you that all of the essential functions like lights, windows, wipers, and on-board computer work without any glitches.
If they won’t show you any of the standard functions in action, walk away from the sale. It’s imperative that the car has all of the basic elements in working order before you drive the vehicle away.
Ask to see evidence of any recent safety and emissions tests, too. If one’s due, find out if there have been any red flags on previous tests that may become a problem for you.
6. What Features Don’t Work as They Ought To?
As well as basic features on any vehicle, your car is likely to have model-specific ones. This might be anything from auto-folding wing mirrors to onboard WiFi.
As a car ages, these features fail. It’s to be expected that you’ll find a few grumbles here and there where things don’t work quite as they should. Knowing what may need fixing in the future can help you to agree to a final sale price.
This question is a good barometer to test how genuine the seller is with their responses, too. Every used car will have some kind of niggle, even if it’s really small. The seller should be willing to point this out to you – if not, they could be selling you a lemon.
If any of the features that don’t work are essential safety elements or requirements that make the car road legal, walk away. You should only accept things that don’t work if they’re features that are nice-to-have but not essential.
7. Can You Show Me the Car Title?
Ask to see the car title, also known as the pink slip, before you agree to a sale.
Private sellers may not have this to hand as it’s lost in their household paperwork. Don’t buy the car without it: give them time to find the document.
Dealers will have this paperwork ready for you to view. If they don’t, definitely walk away.
8. Can I Test Drive the Car?
A car can seem perfect on the outside – but if you don’t like how it drives, it’s not worth buying.
Ask to take the car for a test drive with the seller. This will give them peace of mind you’re not about to drive off with their vehicle and never return! Spend at least fifteen minutes driving so that you can get used to how it handles.
Pay attention to details such as how the steering wheel feels, the seat position, and the comfort of the drive. Feel how the car drives: does the steering wheel vibrate? Are the pedals too responsive or sticky? What noises does the car make in different gears and road conditions?
These signs will help you to feel if the car is the right fit for your needs (and won’t break the minute you drive away).
Search Used Cars Online to Find a Good Deal
Now you know what to ask when buying a used car, it’s time to find a dealership that can give you the answers with confidence.
Private sales are one way to buy a car but dealerships come with added buyer protection and extensive knowledge. Used cars at a dealership will receive thorough checks by in-house mechanics so you can be sure the vehicle is safe to drive away.
Get peace of mind that your second-hand car is a great deal: browse our used vehicles online and arrange a test drive today!