15 Questions to ask before buying a used car

Buying Used Car

Buying a used car could be a huge risk if you are not very careful. This is mostly because you do not know the car’s history, and if you are unlucky, it could be a very costly story if the previous owner is not completely transparent with the issues on the car.

Luckily, there are some questions you can ask before you buy the car to reduce the risk of buying the wrong car drastically.

Let’s begin with a quick overview of the questions, and further down in the article, we will explain every question more in-depth.

Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Car

  1. Why are you selling your car?
  2. Had it been in an accident before?
  3. Are there any records of the milage?
  4. Do you have a service history report?
  5. Has the car been recalled before?
  6. Does the car have a spare tire and jack?
  7. When was the timing belt replaced?
  8. Do you have a carfax of the car?
  9. Is the car smoking much?
  10. Is it the original paint?
  11. Can I take it for a test drive?
  12. Can I show the car to my mechanic?
  13. Can I check under the hood?
  14. How many previous owners?
  15. Can you make a better price?
Buying Used Car

These questions above are the absolute most important questions to ask before buying a used car. Now we will go into each question a little bit more to explain each one of them.

Why are you selling your car?

Asking the owner why he is selling the car is often an excellent idea. If the seller sells it because they know the car has a serious problem, they probably won’t tell you, but some people are very honest, so that it might be worth a shot.

By listening to their story you can often figure out other things about the car’s history also.

Has it been in an accident before?

Ask if the car was involved in any serious accidents before. You should also check this yourself by looking closely at the paint job and see if you notice any differences in color between the parts.

It isn’t easy to get the same paint on repainted parts because the original paint will be sun-bleached after some time. Also, check for any signs of flood damage by looking at the floor mats for any marks after the water level.

RELATED: Should I fix up or trade up my car?

Are there any records of the mileage?

Unfortunately, it happens that people change the mileage on the odometer before selling the car. To prevent this, you can check whether there are documented records of the mileage with a date. It could be from inspections or services, where the mileage is often noted.

You can try to calculate whether the mileage is realistic for the date on which the inspections or services took place.

Do you have a service history report?

Always check the service history before buying a used car. Make sure that all oil changes have been carried out exactly at or before the scheduled service.

If you do not know the exact mileage at which the oil changed should have been done, contact your dealer. Your dealer will give you a correct answer by looking into their computer program and not making any assumptions.

Also, check for any signs of spark plug, engine air filter, fuel filter replacements and make sure they were made within the schedule.

Has the car been recalled before?

Research a little bit to find out if the car has been recalled for any important repairs before. It is always a good idea to ask your dealer if the car has been recalled but not repaired.

Many dealers recall cars and make necessary repairs free of charge if there is an issue from when the car was new.

Does the car have a spare tire and jack?

Ask if the car is equipped with a spare tire, a breakdown kit, and a jack. If the car does not have these, it may be difficult to find new ones for a reasonable price. The cheapest way is to look for used parts at a scrapyard.

If there is no spare tire or jack following the car’s purchase, make sure to bargain for a better price to cover the spare tire and jack’s purchase.

RELATED: How to Inspect a Used Car Before Buying

When was the timing belt replaced?

If the vehicle is equipped with a timing belt, it is very important to determine when the timing belt was replaced last. A timing belt should be replaced within a specific schedule, which can cost anywhere between 1000$ and 2000$, so if it is not replaced, you need to bargain a lot on the price.

This is the exact reason many people sell the car before it is time to replace the timing belt. If you do not replace the timing belt in time, you will risk damaging the whole engine.

If you want to check whether the car is equipped with a timing belt, you can call your dealer and ask. To learn more about when a timing belt should get replaced, you can read this article: Timing Belt Guide.

Do you have a Carfax of the car?

Ask if the owner has a Carfax of the car to see the history of the car. If the owner does not have it, you can get it yourself on the Carfax page.

It can save you a lot of money if you detect any strange things on the vehicle history, like any car crashes or changes in mileage.

There are also other places where you can find a vehicle history, so make sure to compare them properly before you make your decision.

Is the car smoking much?

A lot of blue/grey or white smoke can be caused by a worn-out engine or damaged engine parts, and it can be a costly repair, so you do definitely both want to ask this and check it by yourself before buying the car.

Bad smoke can be caused by a bad turbo or worn internal parts of the engine, often costing several thousands of dollars.

RELATED: Best Places to Buy a Used Car in the USA

Is it the original paint?

Always ask if the car has been repainted before. A repainted car will often never be as good as the original paint as rust will come much faster on repainted parts.

A new paint job could also have been done because of accidents, so you definitely both want to ask and check this yourself.

Can I take it for a test drive?

Ask if you can take the car for a test drive. You should always take a long and careful test drive before buying a used car.

Test the car at all different speeds, loads, and gears to find any strange noises or something that shouldn’t behave as it does. Also, test all electrical functions inside the car like the AC, electric windows, etc.

If you find any problems with the car, you can often bargain to reduce the price a little bit, and you can save some money to either fix the problems or buying cookies for the money.

Can I show the car to my mechanic?

Ask if you can take the car for a ride to a repair shop to let a mechanic look at the car. A mechanic does often knows what to look for and could save you a lot of money.

The mechanic can often also check under the car for any signs of previous damage or faulty parts.

I have myself made several checks on customers’ cars before they are buying the car. It often just takes 10-20 minutes for a mechanic to make a full check, so it is definitely worth the money.

RELATED: Should you Lease or Buy a Used Car?

Can I check under the hood?

If the seller doesn’t let you look under the hood, they’re hiding something. So ask if you can look under the hood and do it.

Check all fluids and check the condition of the engine oil. If the oil is very black, it is probably time for a change.

Check if there is oil in the coolant or if the engine oil is milky colored. This could be caused by a defective cylinder head gasket, which can be very expensive to repair.

Ensure that all fluid levels are good – it can be a sign that the previous owner cared about the car. Also, check for any oil or coolant leaks in the engine bay.

How many previous owners?

Many previous owners can sign a hidden issue with the car and show that many cars bought it and quickly sold it once they realized the issue. This doesn’t have to be the case, it can be for other reasons, but you definitely want to consider it.

If you have time, check the age of the previous owners. In general, older people drive more carefully and take more care of the car, but not always.

Can you make a better price?

Always ask if the seller can give you a better price. Many sellers set a higher price than they actually expect to receive because they know that most people will negotiate.

List all the problems you have found on the car and let the seller know about them. You will be surprised by how much you often can lower the price by just trying!

Conclusion

Buying a used car can be risky if you do not know what to look for. You can reduce the risk considerably by carefully checking the car and the car’s history.

Always take a full car history with a company like Carfax or something similar to check the car’s history.

If you are not feeling comfortable with checking the car yourself, you can always ask your nearest repair shop to do it for you. They will probably more than happy to help you for a small fee.

Written by: Magnus Sellén

Founder, owner & main author of Mechanic Base. I have been repairing cars for more than 10 years, specialized in advanced diagnostics & troubleshooting. I have also been a drifting driver and mechanic for over 7 years.