There are a lot of options out there when it comes to used car shopping.
Craigslist. Ebay. Local Forums. Newspaper. And that’s just for private party sales.
It can be intimidating and confusing to involve a dealership in the process, especially if you’re working with a dealership that isn’t reputable or well-known. But dealing directly with the owner also carries a series of risks that the buyer needs to be aware of. If you’re buying a car directly from the owner, here are the five most important questions to ask.
1. How many miles are on the car?
The total miles on a used car will generally depend on how old it is – obviously, but don’t get fooled by the odometer. Make sure you ask if the engine is original or if it’s been replaced, which is typically only a concern if you’re looking at a very high mileage vehicle. If it has been replaced, you’ll need some sort of documentation that shows how many miles are on the new engine and the odometer should match the chassis’ mileage. If it doesn’t, you probably don’t want it.
Typically, used cars have approximately 15,000 miles for each year they are on the road. Therefore, if the car is four years old, 60,000 miles is a good estimate. If the car is much higher or lower than this estimate, ask the seller why. Anything over 20,000 miles per year or under 5,000 miles per year could be a red flag, or it may be nothing, so just make sure to ask.
2. Are you the original owner?
Ideally, the vehicle has had a single owner for its entire lifespan. Unfortunately, this isn’t typically the case. If the car was passed around a lot, you might wonder if there’s an underlying problem or if some of the sellers treated it poorly. Additionally, if there was only one owner, they’ll be able to provide more information about the car’s history and the records. Generally speaking, a one-owner vehicle is treated better and is in better condition than say, a vehicle with six owners within the same time span. Expect to pay just a little premium for one-owner vehicles.
3. Was the car in any accidents?
If the car was in an accident, it’s important to find out the details. People tend to lose their mind when they hear the vehicle has been in an accident, but in reality, it might not be an issue, but you’ll want to know. Ask: How long ago was the accident? What happened? Where and how was the car repaired? If so, what was the extent of the repairs? Just because a used car was involved in an accident doesn’t mean it isn’t reliable. Small scratches and dings are minor and will show up on a CarFax or AutoCheck History Report if it was reported. Expect to pay a little to a lot less if it’s been any sort of accident, depending on the severity and if the title is salvaged.
4. Can I see the service records?
Ideally, you want to do business with a seller that’s properly maintained the car. One of the best ways to check this is by viewing the service records. Don’t be shy about requesting this information from the seller. Another tell all sign is simply checking the fluids. Granted, they could have just been flushed or topped off, but typically, a lazy owner won’t go through that hassle. Clean fluids + service records = a win all day long.
Don’t hold it against the owner if they performed their own maintenance on the vehicle and don’t have records. They should at least have some sort of log book and receipts of oil, filters and parts they’ve replaced over the years.
5. Can I have a mechanic check the car?
If you’re seriously considering making a purchase, have a certified, trusted mechanic check the vehicle. If the seller doesn’t have anything to hide, they won’t mind a mechanic taking a look. It can sometimes be difficult to schedule a full inspection on a whim, so line one up in advance if you can.
Those simple 5 questions cover about 90% of the issues you’ll run into when purchasing a vehicle. Start with those 5, write them on your hand if you must and don’t forget to get into the details. This is a major purchase, so don’t treat this like a visit to your doctors’ office, treat it like show and tell.
What are your go-to questions when purchasing a vehicle?