Save yourself headaches and massive losses by asking any car seller these questions

used vehicle buying guide

Why are you selling? (Private seller)

The seller could respond to this question in multiple ways. They might be ready for an upgrade or perhaps the vehicle size doesn’t suit their lifestyle anymore. It’s good to understand the reasons behind this change because you may run into the same issues down the line.

How long did you own the vehicle?

If they recently purchased the vehicle and they are already selling it, this is a red flag as this could mean they ran into problems with vehicle.

used vehicle buying checklist
Used vehicle buying checklist

Who did you buy the vehicle from?

By asking this question, you should be able to get clear details about how the vehicle was driven, who the previous owners were and any trans-border sales over the lifespan of the vehicle.

Where did you purchase the vehicle from?

This question will tell you whether the vehicle was purchased from a dealership or another private seller, and if the vehicle was purchased in a different province or country. Your vehicle history report will also give you these registration details from across North America.

What’s the condition of the vehicle? Smoked in? Stains or tears in leather?

Go to any length to inspect the vehicle yourself, but take note of what the seller says. This is the seller’s chance to mention any issues they’ve had in the past. Though never rely on a seller to divulge issues like any current problems or flaws in the appearance.

Can you describe the vehicle’s appearance?

If you’re searching through the classified ads for used vehicles, then you can save a lot of time by calling the salesperson or private seller and asking the important questions first over the phone. During the conversation, something could come up that will catch your attention and turn you off and this will save both your time and the seller’s time. Use the information received over the phone and compare it to what the advertisement states to decide to see the vehicle in person.

Do you have a vehicle history report?

There are now multiple online sources for history reports, even from some major state/provincial vehicle registration providers.  Check with local DMV or registrar for more information. Sometimes adding this step to a used vehicle buying checklist can be very helpful.

How much mileage is on the vehicle?

This is a chance to double check that the mileage quoted in the online listing matches the vehicle’s odometer.

Did the vehicle have regular oil changes? What type of oil?  What type of gasoline was used?

If maintenance or service records or receipts are available, ask the owner for them. These might not always be available (some owners may take care of the routine maintenance on their own), but if they are, they’ll give you a good indication of how well they took care of the car.

Has the vehicle ever been damaged?

This is a chance for the seller to let you know about any incidents the vehicle has been in, whether it be a minor or a major incident, keep in mind this question may or may not involve an accident. Ask them to tell you where on the vehicle the damage occurred and what repair work was done.

Are there any mechanical problems I need to know about?

Research the model year ahead of time on forums and bring up any concerns you found to see if you’ll run into the same problems. Ask the seller if there are any current or past mechanical problems that will cost you money to fix once you’ve made the purchase.

What service has been performed on the vehicle since acquiring it? Do you have documentation?

This question will let you know what type of work has been done on the vehicle, if any, since the previous owner, dealership or private automotive repair shop invoices are acceptable.

How long of a test drive can I take?

Aim to spend up to 30 minutes on a test drive, get the vehicle up freeway speed. You need time to evaluate how well the vehicle runs and whether the vehicle suits your lifestyle. If a private seller disputes, invite them along for the ride. They’ll appreciate the chance to keep a watchful eye on their vehicle or if they are uncomfortable, offer to allow them to drive though this would only be for an exotic or ultra-luxury vehicle.

Can I take the vehicle for an independent inspection?

It’s important that you take the vehicle to a certified mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection so you can get an expert’s opinion on what’s happening with the vehicle under the hood. If the seller hesitates then this could be a red flag that there’s an issue they don’t want you to know.  Making a conditional offer (pending inspection) on a vehicle and having it accepted by the seller before the inspection can result in more negotiation room if repairs are needed.

Do you take trade-ins? (Dealership)

Before you fully commit or get your heart set on a particular model, find out how much money the vehicle’s final cost will be, once all the fees and taxes are included. If the price is higher than your budget, you might be able to offer a trade-in to offset any costs.  DO NOT offer your trade in until a final price has been negotiated.  If the salesperson asks do not divulge you have a trade in as you will likely be keeping your current mode of transportation for your significant other.


used car buying guide
used vehicle for sale custom sign

Can I see the VIN number, the vehicle’s title and your identification?

Further into the sales process, you’ll want to see this information to confirm that the seller is who they say they are and to triple check that the registration information matches with the VIN number. Check the vehicle history report as well to be certain the VIN and vehicle details in the report match up with the vehicle in the online listing and in person

Can we fix any problems before purchase?

If during your vehicle inspection, or through your mechanic’s inspection, you discover a mechanical or physical defect that can be fixed, see if it’s possible to get this done before you purchase. Negotiate a deal with the seller that works for both parties.

By asking the seller these questions, we hope you gain insight into what’s happened over the lifetime of your next potential vehicle and what type of costs you’ll be looking at over the years. Educating yourself with this information will help you make a slow (yes, please walk away at least once from a greedy seller) confident and informed decision about whether the vehicle in your sights is the best possible one at the lowest price.

A recent vehicle inspection (preferably after the offer to purchase is accepted) is crucial in all used vehicle transactions

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