It’s all about asking the right questions and doing your homework.
It’s best to start with basic questions, then move on to specifics. Any unusual or long-shot answers should cause a red flag to go up. Asking the right questions is especially important when buying from a private seller and in order to make the best decision in any situation.
Questions to always ask
How many previous owners? When was the car last purchased? Why is the car being sold? If the car has been sold and purchased many times over a short period, there may be something wrong.
What is the current mileage? On average 155,000 miles is too high to purchase a used car but low mileage does not mean the car was well taken care of.
Has it been in any previous accidents?
Has it undergone any major repairs?
Are the service records available?
Have there been any recalls? Has the problem been corrected?
Is the vehicle history report available?
How was the car driven?
Is the price negotiable?
Will an extended warranty be able?
Check the tires and wheels. They can tell you a lot about how the car was driven. The tires should be evenly worn on the inside and outside.
Check both the interior and exterior. Don’t be afraid to feel the paint, run your fingers along the edges of the hood, trunk, and doors. This can give you an idea about whether or not the car has been painted and also reveal if it might have been in a previous accident.
Look under the hood. Does it look clean and well taken care of? Is there battery corrosion? How do the fluids in the clear containers look? Check the oil, is it clear or dark? This can be a hint as to how the car was driven and taken care of.
Drive it cold. A cold car can tell you a lot more than one that’s been warmed up.
Turn the key yourself. Is there any clicking sounds or does it turn over nicely?
Check the controls. Do the lights and windshield wipers work?
Listen to the transmission. When doing a test drive the person you will be purchasing the car from usually tends to point out the sound system and turns up the music. Don’t let them do this or politely turn the music off, you need to listen to the car as you’re driving.
Check the brakes. See how they react when you push down on them in order to come to a quick stop.
Check the alignment. Let go of the wheel for a moment and see if the car pulls in any direction.
The key is to LISTEN, LISTEN, and LISTEN. If anything sounds unusual, you should have it checked out by a mechanic.
Do not base your decision on what you are told. Ask for the facts, service records and vehicle history reports, and research for yourself.
Do not buy a car that needs “minor repairs.” That is only extra money you are going to spend in order to get the car into the condition it should have been in when you purchased it.
Don’t be rude to the car salesman at the dealership. There’s no reason to get duped, but if you’re nice to them, they’ll more than likely be nicer to you when it comes down to negotiation time.
Finally, listen to your gut. If you have any reservations or hesitations do not buy the car.