Whether you’re buying a preowned vehicle from a dealership or a private seller, asking the right questions can help ensure you’re making a smart purchase. Here are five things to ask about before striking a deal on a used car.
It’s always a plus when a vehicle comes with warranty coverage, but this isn’t always the case with preowned cars (especially the older the car is). Ask if the vehicle is being sold “as is” or if it’s covered by a preexisting warranty. If it’s still covered, find out when the warranty will expire and if coverage will transfer to you as the new owner. This might require you to look through the warranty papers or to contact the warrantor for more information.
Find out how long the seller has owned the vehicle. If they didn’t buy it new, they may not be able to give you its entire history. In that case, see if they know how many previous owners it’s had. If the vehicle has had a few different owners within a short period of time, there could be a reason nobody wants to hold onto it.
It might not be a bad idea to get a vehicle report (through CARFAX or AutoCheck, for example), as it may provide you with information on past ownership and accidents. It can be easier to get this report if you’re shopping for a used car at a dealership. If you’re buying from a private seller, you may need to purchase the report on your own.
Get an idea of what shape the car is in by asking if the vehicle has been in any accidents, when and what repairs or customizations have been made to it, and when it was last maintained (including tune-ups, oil and tire changes, when the brakes were last checked, etc.). You can also ask if the vehicle has any maintenance documents you can look at.
Sure, asking these questions can help you decide whether or not to buy a given car. But it’s also just a good idea to know as much about your new vehicle as possible. After all, someone could ask you the very same questions if you ever decide to sell it in the future. The more prepared you are to answer a potential buyer’s questions, the more confident you’ll be selling it.
Standard Tools & “Extras”
It can be easy to forget to ask the seller about these items. Find out if the vehicle comes with any spare keys, floor mats, the owner’s manual, a spare tire and jack, or anything else that comes to mind.
Ask to see the title. This will allow you to see if the title is branded and can also help you verify that the seller is the rightful owner of the car. Take this opportunity to make sure the information on the title matches the vehicle you’re looking at, including the make, model, year, and VIN.
If the seller refuses to show you the title or says they don’t have it, this is a red flag. Generally speaking, the only time it’s acceptable for the seller to not have the title on hand is if there’s a lien on the vehicle (for example, if it's been financed). While there are other legitimate reasons they may not have the title (for example, it was lost, stolen, or destroyed), it’s the seller’s responsibility to obtain a replacement. According to the Utah DMV:
“It is unwise to rely on a seller’s promise to ‘get the title to you.’ Although Utah law requires a seller to provide a title within 48 hours of the transaction, a common-sense approach is to obtain a title at the time of sale, or wait to pay for the vehicle until the seller can provide the title. Without a negotiable title, you cannot title and register the vehicle in your name” (DMV.Utah.gov).