Buying a used car doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking or expensive. You just need to know what you should be asking throughout the process. These eight questions can help you find an affordable used car that will keep you on the road for years to come.
Questions to ask yourself
Before you even start debating the relative merits of a sedan versus an SUV, you need to ask yourself some important questions.
- How much work am I willing to do to get a deal?
When you buy a used car, you can spend money and save time by making a purchase from a reputable local dealer — or you can spend time and save money by buying direct from a local private seller. Whether you purchase from a dealer or a private seller, you can often find better deals if you broaden your search to include nearby cities.
- What is my budget?
Whether you plan to pay cash for your used car or you expect to take on an auto loan, you need to start with a good look at how much car you can afford. If you don’t have the full cost of your new-to-you car saved up, make sure you have calculated the monthly cost of financing the vehicle.
Of course, your monthly car payment is not the only cost associated with buying a car. You will also need to calculate your insurance costs. Different vehicle models can have different insurance premiums. In addition, different vehicles can require varying levels of maintenance and the cost of parts, labor, and repairs can be higher or lower depending on which car you choose.
- How will I finance this purchase?
If you are planning to finance, don’t wait until after you’ve found the car you want to get your financing in place. Whether you are purchasing a car from a dealer or a private seller, having your financing secured ahead of time gives you an important bargaining chip. You will be empowered to negotiate with the seller in the same way that a cash buyer could. You will not be stuck with the terms offered by the dealer’s financing options, and you will make it clear to a private seller that you are a motivated buyer. Get approved today!
Questions to ask the internet
Now we get to the fun part. You’ve figured out your budget, so you can start looking online at local (or not-so-local, if you’re willing to travel for a deal) used cars for sale. But rather than just make a list of possibilities in your price range, don’t forget to do a little research on the particular makes and models that you are planning to test drive.
- What are common problems with this make and model?
Automotive engineers and manufacturers are not perfect, which means there can be common problems with certain models that are predictable if you know a little about the brand. While not all common problems are costly, it is always a good idea to know as much as possible about the known complaints about your potential purchase before you even go for a test drive.
Questions to ask the seller over the phone
At this point, it’s tempting to just go test drive the cars on your finalist list. But before you do this, you should pick up the phone and have a conversation with the dealer or seller. Here are some questions you can ask to help you narrow down your search before committing to a test drive:
- Can you tell me about any recent maintenance or repair?
A used car has a history, which means there must have been some maintenance, and possibly some repair. You want to find a seller who is able to tell you what kinds of maintenance and repairs were recently done. If the seller claims that the 10-year-old vehicle you’re interested in has needed nothing but oil changes, that could be a red flag, particularly if you know what common problems crop up on that make and model.
- Can my mechanic look at the vehicle before I make my final decision?
If the answer is anything other than yes, hang up the phone and move on.
Questions to ask your mechanic
Once you’ve narrowed down the options, it’s time to let your trusted mechanic give it a once-over. Since your mechanic may not feel comfortable just giving you a thumbs up or thumbs down, here are two questions to ask to help you decide if the car is right for you:
- Did the owner do a good job of maintaining this vehicle?
A well-made car that was poorly maintained may be a worse bet than a mediocre car that was lovingly maintained. Your mechanic will be able to tell you if the previous owner stayed on top of necessary regular and irregular maintenance.
- Did the previous owner use cheap parts or good parts?
Not all car parts are created equal. A previous owner who did repairs with low-quality, cheap parts may have done a disservice to the car (and the next owner). Other than taking the car completely apart, there will be no way to know if all replacement parts were high-quality — but asking if the easy-to-check parts are good quality can be a decent indicator that the previous owner took good care of the vehicle.