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Top Questions To Ask When Shopping For A Used Car

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Are you searching for the perfect used car that’s within your budget, accommodates your lifestyle, and need for reliability? Unfortunately, not everyone just happens to stumble upon that right car. Asking the right questions will ultimately determine whether a specific used car is right for you. In addition, asking the appropriate questions will help prevent buyer’s remorse. 

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Why It’s Important To Ask Questions Before Buying A Used Car?


Did you know that the used car market accounts for about 3% of the United States gross domestic product? With more than 800,000 pickups and SUVs being sold in the first month of January alone in 2020, the automotive industry is one of the country’s largest industries. Yes, the used car market is massive which makes it even more challenging to find the perfect used vehicle that fits your needs.


New cars are all alike because they are all fresh from the factory. On the contrary, whether you’re purchasing a used car from a dealership or a private seller it has an unknown history. Asking as many questions as you want can help ensure that you make the right decision.


Top Questions To Ask When Shopping For A Used Car 

Here are some of the top questions you should be asking before purchasing a used vehicle.


What is the mileage on the odometer? 

Inquiring about the mileage on a vehicle is second nature when you’re shopping for a used car. After all, the mileage gives you an idea of the overall wear and tear of the vehicle and its depreciation value. Most buyers who set their limit at about 100,000 miles are often wary of purchasing a vehicle whose odometer supersedes that because most cars start to require various maintenance services once they reach the 100,000-mile mark. 


Ideally, it's best to purchase a car that’s under 80,000 miles but you should ultimately take reliability into account. For instance, a high-mileage Honda Civic would be a wiser investment than a high-mileage Ford Focus since Honda’s are known to be much more reliable and durable.


Why is the car being sold?

If you’re viewing a car from a private seller, you’ll want to know why they are selling the vehicle. Are they looking to upgrade to a bigger vehicle that will accommodate their family or are they simply looking to get a problematic vehicle off of their hands? If there is something mechanically wrong with the vehicle, chances are those same issues will be a major problem for you. Of course, the owner might not be completely honest with you but this question always throws them off balance a bit. Often you can tell by how they answer the question whether they're being truthful or not. 


Is the car up to date on maintenance?

When was the last time the oil was changed? How old are the tires on the vehicle? If the owner kept up with basic maintenance of the vehicle the car is likely in decent shape. Find out if the car was serviced at a mechanic or a dealer. Some sellers may even encourage you to speak with the mechanic who frequently worked on the car to attest to its health. 


Where are the service records?

Of course, if the vehicle was properly and regularly maintained there should be service records to back it up. If service records or maintenance receipts are available make sure you ask to see them. 


Was the vehicle involved in any accidents?

While purchasing a used car that was involved in an automobile accident isn’t always a bad idea, you should exercise caution. Even if the vehicle appears to be in great shape cosmetic wise, there can be underlying mechanical issues that were caused by the accident. If the car was involved in an accident you’ll want to have the vehicle thoroughly inspected by a mechanic that you trust. 


Most people rely on the vehicle history report to find out if the vehicle was involved in an accident but the history report doesn’t always pick up everything. Therefore, you’ll want to do your due diligence by asking the owner this important question. 


Ask for the VIN

Speaking of the vehicle history report you should ask for the VIN right away or better yet you can jot down the numbers that are on the inspection sticker or the side of the driver’s door. You can perform a free VIN check on the National Insurance Crime Bureau and VehicleHistory.com. You can also obtain a used car’s entire CarFax history with the VIN. 


The Vehicle Identification Number reveals a plethora of things about a car that you should know. You can find out the size of the engine, model year, model type, and trim level. When you look up the VIN you’ll also find out how many people previously owned the vehicle, whether it was involved in an accident, whether the car has a salvage title or if it was reported stolen. In some instances, you might be able to see when the vehicle was last inspected and what type of maintenance was previously performed on the vehicle. The VIN holds a wealth of information and you must access it before you purchase any used car. 


What doesn’t work on the car?

When you’re buying a used car, there are likely one or two features on the vehicle that might not be working. It could be that the vehicle needs an AC recharge so the air conditioner doesn't blow out cold air. Or perhaps the radio isn’t working or one of the door handles is broken. Whatever the case maybe it’s important to find out what the defects are before purchasing the car because they could end up being a big deal-breaker for you in the long run. 


What are the car’s safety features?

If you are buying a used car from the dealer, you should ask for a rundown of the safety features. Safety features are very important especially if you have children or you’re considering starting a family in the near future. Since auto manufacturers have different names for their safety systems it can be difficult to identify what safety features a car is equipped with and if it has the features that you want. 


Is the vehicle certified pre-owned?

When you’re shopping for a used car in a dealership you’ll want to determine whether the vehicle is certified pre-owned or not. A certified pre-owned vehicle is a used car that has been inspected, refurbished, and certified by the manufacturer or another authority source. These classes of used cars often come with warranties and special financing. 


If you desire to purchase a used car that’s nearly brand new, a Certified Pre-owned vehicle is the best way to go. You will have the peace of mind of knowing that you purchased a good vehicle. 


Can you take the vehicle for a test drive?

Whether you are buying a used car from a dealership or a private seller you should ask to take the car for a quick drive. A test drive is necessary because it allows you to get a good feel of the car before you actually buy it. Testing driving a car is similar to trying on a pair of new shoes before you buy them. You have to make sure they fit and that they are comfortable to walk in. 


Once you sit inside the car and feel how it drives on the road you might end up feeling entirely different about the car. When you test drive the vehicle you should be evaluating important factors such as:


Braking: How does it feel when you press on the brake pedal? Are the brakes responsive or do they feel spongy? 


Acceleration: Does the car downshift smoothly and quickly? Is there enough acceleration power to make it up a hill or downhill? 


Steering: Can you feel the bumps in the road while steering? Do you feel steering wheel vibrations when turning? Is the vehicle responsive? 


Suspension: Does the vehicle glide or does it ride comfortably down the road.


Does the car have a Salvage title?

It’s not uncommon for an individual to sell a vehicle with a Salvage title. In case you didn’t know, Salvage title cars are considered high risk. It can be difficult to get them properly registered and insured. If a car has a Salvage title at some point it was involved in a serious accident and the insurance company decided to “total” the vehicle which means that the cost of repairs would be more than what the car is worth. 


Used cars with Salvage titles can still have mechanical problems even if the body of the vehicle was repaired. If you are considering purchasing a used car with a Salvage title you should at least find out what led to the vehicle obtaining such a branding. Flood cars are often totaled by insurance companies. Salvaged vehicles with flooding damage aren’t worth the investment since mechanical problems with these cars take time to manifest. 


Do you have a title in hand?

When you are buying a used car from a private seller they should be able to present you with the title. Whoever has the title owns the car. Therefore, you should never pay for a car without obtaining the title in return. Make sure the title matches the VIN and the model of the car that is in front of you. 


If you purchase the vehicle will it be under any type of warranty?

If you are purchasing a used car from a dealership you should find out if the vehicle is under any type of warranty. Most dealerships offer a thirty or ninety-day warranty on used cars. If a warranty is offered you should find out exactly what it covers.


Can I have the vehicle inspected by my mechanic?

Whenever you are buying a used car especially from a private seller it's always a good idea to have the vehicle inspected by a trusted mechanic. Your mechanic will be able to perform a thorough inspection and spot any potential problems that can lead to costly repairs. While you might have to pay for this additional service it will be worth it because it can potentially save you thousands of dollars later on down the line. 


Are you willing to come down on the price?

Negotiation is key whenever you are shopping for a used car. Most private sellers and dealers are willing to meet you in the middle. There are so many factors that can affect how much money you negotiate off the sticker price. Does the car need detailing? Perhaps the car needs new tires or there’s a small scratch on the body. These might seem like minor details but they can help you land a major discount. 


Common Questions

Q: What is the best-used car website?

The best websites to shop for a used car on are; AutoTrader, CarsDirect, CarsGuru, and Autolist. 


Q: What should you consider before buying a used car?

Before you purchase a used car you should first figure out exactly what it is that you want. Take some time and write down what your priorities are. Is it extra seating? Or perhaps you desire more luxury or advanced safety features such as lane assist or blindspot detectors. 


Next, you’ll need to set your budget and consider all of your financing options. Be prepared to walk away if a car doesn’t accommodate your needs and isn’t priced within your budget. 


Q: What are the most important factors to consider when buying a vehicle?

The three most important factors you should consider when purchasing a vehicle are; quality, cost of ownership, and reliability. Quality refers to the workmanship and the durability of the vehicle and its components. Cost of ownership involves maintenance, fuel, repairs, and insurance costs.  


Anybody who has ever owned a vehicle that required frequent repairs can understand the importance of reliability. You’ll want a car that's going to be dependable, so it's always best to choose a brand that’s synonymous with reliability like Toyota or Honda.


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