Questions to ask car dealers when buying a used car

Saving13 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car9 Min Read | Oct 31, 2022By Ramsey SolutionsBy Ramsey SolutionsYou might have heard the rumor about how used car prices have shot th

Questions to ask car dealers when buying a used car


13 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

9 Min Read | Oct 31, 2022

Ramsey Solutions

By Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions

By Ramsey Solutions

You might have heard the rumor about how used car prices have shot through the roof. Heres the thing about that rumor: Its 100% true.

Compared to the previous year, the average price of a preowned vehicle in the United States in January 2022 was up 36.9% to $34,852crossing the $30K mark for the first time ever.1 Thats a lot of dough!

But before you start thinking about giving up cars altogether and walking everywhere on foot, hear us out. Noteveryused car is going to cost you an arm and a leg. There are still plenty of good deals on used cars out there. You just have to do your homework, know where to shop, understand what youre looking for, andof coursestick to your budget.

On top of all that, its even more important that youre asking the right questions these days. What kinds of questions? Were glad you asked. Heres a list you can ask the seller (and yourself) before you decide whether or not tobuy their used car. Then, you can drive off knowing youve found a reliable set of wheels instead of a lemon.

1. Why are they selling the car?

This one will get youplentyof answers from the seller. Sometimes the best thing you can do is ask the seller your question and let them do the talking. This lets you scope things out, get to know the seller, and understand the reason why theyre selling the car. Maybe their family just welcomed their first child and they need an SUV instead of that two-door coupetheir car loss is your gain!


Dave's easiest money-saving tip: See if you're over paying for car insurance.

But if they break out in a sweat or quickly change the subject, little red flags should start waving around in your head. The owner might be trying to cut their losses with a car thats been giving them headaches, and their lack of a poker face is giving it away.

2. How old is the car?

Thanks todepreciation, most new cars lose 60% of their value after five years.2So, if you bought a new car for $30,000 five years ago, its only worth about $12,000 now. You can use the cars ageand how that make and model loses value over timeto your advantage when yourenegotiatingfor a better price.

So, do your homeworkbeforeyou drive up to the dealership or meet with that seller from Craigslist. That way, youll know if their sticker price is legit or just straight-up crazy.

3. Whats the cars mileage?

Mileage matters. The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration reports that the average person drives 14,263 miles each year.3All of that adds up to wear and tear on the car. Keep that in mind when youre making your decision. Some vehicles can pack on a crazy amount of miles without skipping a beat (whats up, Honda). Others? Not so much. So once you know how old the car is and how many miles are on it, you can figure out pretty quickly if the sellers been running their car into the ground or only drove it on Sundays.

4. How long have they owned the car?

The longer someone owns a car, the more they can tell you about it. If someones been driving their car for a while without too many problems, it might be a sign that the car is pretty reliable. But if someone is trying to sell a car after owning it for only a year or less, theyre probably not happy with the car for some reason.

Thats not always the case, but you need to dig a little deeper to make sure the seller isnt just trying to unload their clunker on you.

5. Are they selling the car as is, or is it under warranty?

When a dealership or private seller is selling a vehicle as is, that just means theres no warranty on the car. Once you drive it off the lot (or their front lawn), dealing with any flaws or defects that need fixing is on you.

Heres some good news: Some used cars are still under the manufacturers warranty. That means the manufacturer or dealer is still on the hook for at least some of therepairsand replacement parts your car might need. Either way, youll want to know what youre getting yourself into.

6. Is there any damage to the exterior of the car?

We know looks arenteverything, but they still count for something! Here are a few things to keep an eye out for:

  • Bodywork, paint job, car frame:Look out for scratches, dents and rust on the surface of the car.
  • Windshield, lights, rearview and sideview mirrors:Are there cracks on the windshield? Do the headlights seem foggy or discolored? Are the rearview and sideview mirrors clear and working?
  • Wheels and tires:Check each wheel for dents, and make sure theyre not bent. Take a look at the tires, too, to make sure they dont need to be replaced before you buy the car.

While its more important to buy a car thats in good shape under the hood, serious problems on the outsidelike a rear bumper held together by duct tape or massive rust stains on the car doorcan tell youa lotabout how the owner treated the car.

For even more tips on what to keep your eyes peeled for when buying a car, check out ourRamsey Car Guide.

7. What does the interior of the car look like?

Now its time to climb in and take a look around. After all, youre going to be spendinga lotof time behind the wheel! Are there rips and tears from the family dog or coffee stains on the seats? Does it smell like a giant ash tray? Are there burger wrappers littering the floor? These are all things to think about and will tell you how well (or howlittle) the car has been taken care of.

8. Are there any mechanical problems?

Lets take a look under the hoodeven if you dont really know what youre looking at. Heres a pro tip: The engine is the main thing you want to check out. Make sure the engine compartment is clean with no leaking fluids (yikes). Youll also want to be sure the car will pass a smog and safety inspection that a lot of states require.

P.S. If youre not sure of all the ins and outs under the hood, bring along a friend or family member who knows those things. Chances are, theyd be happy to help you out, and youll feel better knowing youve got an extra set of eyes there.

9. Has the car been in any accidents?

A fender bender here or there or some dings from that narrow parking spot at the grocery store arent the end of the world. But if the car has been in a major wreck that required a new engine or a lot of bodywork, you might want to tread lightly here.

Sometimes, cars thatve been through major repairs will still have problems long after the cars been fixed. Youll want to have the car looked at by a trusted mechanic before moving forward with buying it (more on that later).

10. Is there a vehicle history report available?

A vehicle history report will give you some need-to-know info thatll help you decide whether this car is for youincluding accidents, open recalls, the cars previous owners and service history. All of that can give you the upper hand when it comes to getting a better price too.

You can look up a report online (it just takes a few minutes) or get one for free from most used-car dealersall you need is the vehicle identification number (VIN) or license plate number.

11. Can I take the car to my mechanic for an independent inspection?

Yes! If you doone thingbefore buying a used car, it should be this: Take the car to a trusted mechanic to make sure everything checks out. Having a mechanic look for any problemsbeforetheyre yours to deal with will give you peace of mind about the car.

And if the seller gives you trouble about itor just flat out says nochances are, theyre trying to hide something pretty serious. Drive away from that deal as fast as you can!

12. Do they have the title in hand?

Whether youre buying from a private seller or a dealership,neverdrive off the lot or pay a single dime without having the cars title in hand.No title, no deal!

Be sure to actually look at the title, too, before agreeing to buy the car. Itll show if the car has been in an accident and marked as a total loss (aka a salvage vehicle). If thats the case, you can ask for a price to reflect that.

13. How would this car impact my car insurance premiums?

When you change cars, dont forget about how it might impact yourcar insurancebill. If youre turning in your hooptie for a much newer model, your insurance premiums will probably go up. Ask the seller if theyre willing to share how much theyre paying for car insurance so you can get a general idea of how much itll cost to insure the car.

But honestly, the best way to get a true estimate is to get in touch with an independent insurance agentbeforebuying a used car. OurinsuranceEndorsed Local Providers (ELPs)can shop tons of companies to help you find the best deal on insurance for your new-to-you wheels. Reach out to one of our trusted insurance agents today.

The only way to know if youre really ready to buy is by doing a regular budget.EveryDollaris the worlds best budgeting app, and better yetits free!Download it todayand start saving for your next new-to-you car!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.More Articles From Ramsey Solutions

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