Top Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car so You Don’t Get Taken For a Ride!

Buying a used or pre-owned car, truck, or SUV makes good money sense. It can save you thousands a dollars and keep your monthly car payments low. Since the car has already been owned by someone else whether it be another consumer or dealer, you must know which questions to ask before buying a used car to make sure you are getting a good solid ride that will last you years.

Did you know that the minute you drive off the car dealer lot your car depreciates by more than 11%? Buying a pre-owned or used car will save you on the total cost of your car. You can still get a newer car, even the current year’s model –  some even with that new car smell! That could save you thousands just because someone else has been sitting in the driver’s seat.

Asking the right questions can save you headaches and money down the road. Make sure you ask these questions to the dealer or during a private sale before purchasing a used or pre-owned car.

Top Questions to ask when buying a used car infographic

How many owners have there been?

Knowing how many owners there have been for the car you are thinking about purchasing is very important. If the vehicle has changed hands many times and it’s fairly new, that could indicate a problem. Older cars tend to have multiple owners. Typically not handfuls though!

Is there a maintenance record?

Finding out if there is a maintenance record is important and if the previous owners have kept up with regular maintenance. It will tell you how cared for the car has been. 

If the previous owner has not kept up with regular car maintenance, that could put your car at risk for something very catastrophic! Take for instance if you haven’t changed your car oil. The oil keeps your car running smoothly. If you haven’t changed your oil in a long time, the engine components will start to warp or wear out. This will result in having to replace your entire engine which will cost you thousands of dollars or a trip to the junkyard.

Is the car still under warranty?

This question can give you some peace of mind in case anything big happens. A full powertrain warranty is helpful if something happens with the engine, transmission or drivetrain.

Has the car been in any floods?

Car under water during a flood

Some flooded cars are fixed and sold in other parts of the state or country so it’s important to look for and find out if the car has been in a flood. Flooded cars come with big problems. Water can ruin electronics and mechanical systems. The damage may not happen right away. It may take years but it will shorten the life of your car or you may need to spend a lot of money making it right.  If you are unsure if the car has been in a flood. Take the car to a trusted mechanic. They will look for tell-tale signs that you may miss.

Has the car been any accidents?

Know if the car has been in any accidents is very important. Many cars will be fine after a car accident if they’ve been properly repaired but if the accident was substantial enough the problems may never get 100% fixed.

Has anything on the car been replaced or added?

This may give you a clue to how the car has been taken care off and what may need a replacement or repair soon.

Are there any mechanical problems that I should be aware of?

If you don’t ask, they may not tell you. You rather know from the get-go if you will have to be responsible for any repairs that will come up. This should help you determine if this is the right car for you.

Do you have the Title?

The car’s Title shows who the legal owner of the car is. Without it, if someone else’s name is on the title, they could sell it even though you paid for it. Make sure the title is clean and can be transferred to you. You will also need a copy of it for your insurance in most states.

Does it come with the original equipment?

Red car jack

Items like the spare tire, wheel lock keys, jacks, etc. Those need to be a part of the sale. Many cars now come with wheel locks that need a special key to take off the lug nuts to change or rotate the tires. If you don’t have one, they can’t undo the lugs and you’ll have to get a full new set. Plus the dealer will charge you for unlocking them with their master key. Another expense you don’t want to incur.

Have there been any recalls?

  If there have been any recalls, find out if there is a record of it being fixed? Even though recalls don’t cost the consumer money many people won’t bring their car to get the recall fixed. The dealer is required to fix the recalls although in a reasonable amount of time. If it has been decades they may not have the part to fix the recall issue. You just want to make sure the recall problem is fixed. Plus, most recalls are for safety purposes.

Additional questions to ask before you buy a used car during a private sale

If you are being a used car from a private seller, the questions above should be asked but there are additional questions that are just important to find out about if you purchased a used car.

Why are you selling the car?

Sometimes the seller will be forthcoming and tell you that the car hasn’t been good on gas or they are in the shop with it more than they like. It’s good to know the reason in case you end up inheriting the same problem. 

How long have you owned the car?

People riding in a blue jeep

Finding out there is a long list of owners for an older car isn’t usually a great sign for the car’s reliability. But a car that has been only owned for a short time may mean that the owner needs a different type of car, for instance, a young couple expanding a family or a contractor needing a larger vehicle. Either way, it will help you determine why the car is being sold.


Asking the right questions to determine if buying a pre-owned or used vehicle will help save money in the long run. In addition to asking questions directly, there are other services that can give you a history of the car like, CarFax or a history on the car’s recalls through NHHSTA, (The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Carfax has a fee although some dealers will give you one free. The NHTSA is a free service from the US government.