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Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

Peter Nisbet
February 21, 2013

There are many questions to ask when buying a used car, and also many advantages in doing so. Before we consider the questions, why buy a used car and not a new car? For many the answer is obvious - finance! For others it is equally obvious - finance! That's right - the same reason for each, and here's why.

First, a used car costs less than the same car unused. How much less depends on the age and condition of the car. However, even if just driven 50 miles, a used car is cheaper than the same car with zero on the clock- a car loses 12% of its sales price in its first year irrespective of mileage.

Many people would never buy a brand new car, not only because it loses a massive chunk of value once the key is turned, but also because all the initial problems and issues have come to light and been resolved in the first few weeks of its life. That said, here are some of the questions to ask when buying a used car. These apply whether you are buying from an individual or from a garage/dealer.

1. What's the mileage?

Ask the question first and then check the odometer. Figure out the annual mileage from the age of the car, and if that seems low then ask why. Listen carefully, and if the answer seems contrived it could be that the clock has been turned back a bit. It happens!

2. What's the car's condition?

Again ask in advance. Then check it yourself. If the answer is 'excellent' then that's good because it is going to be in very good shape. If you arrive to inspect it and it is obviously not good, then simply walk away and never use that person or company again.

If the condition is described as 'good' or 'OK' a lot depends on what you expect to pay for it. Such terms are very subjective, and one person's 'good' could be another's 'excellent' or 'poor.' The same with 'fair' or 'poor' - check it out and make your own mind up. You are under no obligation until you have signed an agreement.

3. Why is it being sold?

There are many potential answers to this question, but if the seller has to think before answering, there might be something wrong with the car. When buying a used car, it helps to know why it is being sold. If the seller has bought a new car, or there is any other apparently acceptable answer for selling it, then you should be OK.

However, the answer might give you room for price negotiation. Answers such as "it is too expensive to maintain" or "it uses too much gas" could either warn you off or enable you to haggle to a lower price. Many problems are caused by the driver or owner, although it might be risky to purchase a car that is causing somebody else a problem.

4. Where is the service record?

If there is no service record, then you might be best to leave it. Buying a used car that has not been regularly serviced is asking for trouble. A lack of regular oil changes can cause damage to the engine, while a lack of general lubrication can lead to wear of the bearings and joints. Although the car might look fine and run OK, it might have a limited life. Service records are important when buying a used car.

5. From whom and where was the car purchased?

If the car has had more than one owner, the previous owner's identity could be important. A single previous owner is best. Also, was it purchased in another state? This is important because some states are less particular than others regarding salvaged cars, making it easy for the title of a salvaged car to be washed and its true condition hidden.

6. Have there been any repairs carried out on it?

If the seller says yes, then ask what, and get an assurance that all parts have been original manufacturer parts. If the seller denies any repairs and you find evidence that there have been, then the seller cannot be trusted. Forget the car and find something else.

7. Can you have the car independently checked?

If the seller says no or seems disturbed by the question, then leave it. There is obviously something to hide, and even if not, it is probably not worth taking the risk.

8. Can I test drive it?

If the answer is no, then leave it for the same reason as above. If the seller won't let you take the car for a quick test drive, then there is something to hide. If they say yes, then drive it on the highway and find out how it handles at speed, not just round the block.

Finally, if everything seems OK, ask for a price and start haggling. Nobody pays the asking price when buying a used car, and no doubt a few dollars have been added on for negotiation.

If you are still unsure what questions to ask when buying a used car, check out the Benton Nissan website. We not only offer some of the best deals in Alabama, but will also help you make the best choice when buying a used car.

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