Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car Privately or From a Dealer


If you’re looking to get a good deal on a car, buying used is the way to go. However, buying a used car from either a dealer or a private seller comes with various risks. You might get a great deal on a car, but the money you saved could quickly be matched by repair fees due to worn or damaged parts that you didn’t know about. Knowing what to ask during the purchasing process will make your search for a great used car much easier.

What Are the Known Issues with the Car?

If the owner gives a very short answer to this question, try being more specific. For example, ask if there are any problems with the handling, if the transmission is good, if it starts up quickly, if there are any odd noises when the engine is running and anything else that comes to mind.

Why Are You Selling the Car?

Dealers might not know why the original owner sold the car, but it can’t hurt to ask them anyway. Knowing why the owner is selling the car not only helps you catch any serious problems the car might have but it can also help you with negotiating the price.

For instance, if the owner is planning to buy a new car or already bought one, then there probably isn’t much wrong with the vehicle and they’ll be highly motivated to sell.

If the vehicle once belonged to a deceased loved one or a grown child who left it behind when they went to college, they’ll be less motivated to sell due to emotional attachment.

They may also be brutally honest and admit to several issues with the car that they either can’t afford to fix or don’t want to bother getting repaired. That is good news for your negotiations but bad news for you if the problems are also too much for you to bear.

What is the Mileage?

Cars with a lot of mileage could have a multitude of problems, and their resale value after you own the vehicle will be even worse. The owner should know the mileage off the top of their head, and a dealer should have the exact number available offhand in their paperwork. If they don’t, it could mean they’re being deceptive about the vehicle or they might not be selling it legally.

Can I Take It for a Test Drive?

Never buy a car without test driving it first. Test drives allow you to get first-hand knowledge on how well the car starts, runs, handles and much more. Remember, even small things like how comfortable you are in the driver’s seat can make a big difference in your experience owning it. Be wary of owners who deny you a test drive or refuse to let you drive for more than a few minutes. That may indicate that there are problems with the vehicle that only present themselves when the car is on the road.

Can I Have it Inspected?

You should only get a vehicle inspected if you’re serious about buying the vehicle, but asking the owner for their permission to get an inspection will be very telling. Anyone who denies you an inspection is most likely trying to hide problems with the vehicle.

What is the VIN?

The VIN on a vehicle is more than just an identification number. It actually holds eight different types of information:

  • The serial number
  • The country in which the vehicle was manufactured
  • The company that manufactured the vehicle
  • Vehicle type
  • Specifics such as make, model, brand, engine type and more.
  • Model year
  • Vehicle type
  • The assembly plant in which the vehicle was made
  • A security check code

You can use a VIN decoder like to determine where this information is located within the VIN and what exactly the numbers and letters mean in regards to the type of information you’re investigating.

You’ll also need to know the VIN for the sake of obtaining a vehicle history report. There are several websites that can provide you with a detailed report on information such as past accidents, any damage the vehicle has suffered, how many owners the vehicle has had, service history, repair work, mileage per year and much more.