Buying a used car can be a bit of a gamble. You might end up purchasing a great vehicle that looks and functions like new, but at a big discount. On the other hand, you could make a bad pick and end up with a complete wreck of a vehicle.
Purchasing a second-hand car is a hit or miss, unless you know exactly what to ask the previous owner.
How to properly judge the previous owner of a car
If you see a car that has stain marks and a rough interior, most likely the owner hasn’t properly maintained the engine either. If one fails to do simple things like cleaning up after themselves, then what about maintenance and servicing?
Through asking questions, you’ll not only examine the car itself, but also get to know the previous owner better. If you catch them in a little lie or suspect they’re not being honest about something, they have probably lied about something even bigger and more serious as well.
If you sniff any contradictions, the owner is most likely lying and you should stay away, regardless of how great the vehicle looks. Honest people will tell you upfront if you should expect any repairs anytime soon. Pay attention if they are trying to change the subject. If they do, count that as a lie.
If you do not feel comfortable asking so many questions yourself, bring a more experienced friend or family member with you. Consider prepaying a mechanic to come and inspect the car for an unbiased opinion.
The 15 best questions to ask the previous owner when purchasing a second-hand car
1. Why are you selling the car?
Legitimate reasons a seller can give you for selling the car are, for example, if they’ve had a child or if they are expecting one. Starting a business, or doing construction can also influence someone’s vehicle choice. People who expand their families or businesses tend to have different needs than they used to when it comes to a car.
If they fail to answer or have no clue, they are probably hiding something. If they answer that it’ll need a repair soon and they are out of cash, that would be a good point on which you can bargain about the price.
2. Are you the first owner of the car and how many owners have there been before you?
Knowing whether you are going to be the second owner of the car or the thirty-fourth is important. Although the previous owner might have serviced it properly, the one before them might have been negligent.
Ask if they have any information about the last owner and how they had serviced the vehicle. Some people keep all their repair receipts, which can be very helpful.
3. How long have you been driving the car?
If they’ve been driving the car for a long time and can’t answer most of your questions, there’s something fishy going on. The more someone has driven a car, the more they know about it. Don’t get scared if they’ve been driving the car for more than five years, that actually might be a good sign of reliability.
4. What’s the car’s mileage?
By knowing the car’s mileage, you can inform yourself on what problems to expect. Typically, most cars require oil changes every 7,000 to 10,000 miles.
Make sure you check the specific repairs that each car model usually undergoes regarding the miles it has passed. This way you would know whether that $10,000 BMW will end up costing you $15,000 in repairs and servicing, only because it has passed over 70,000 miles since the last time it was properly serviced.
5. Have you had any accidents with the car?
If they’ve had an accident with the car, you better know about it. If they haven’t, ask them about previous owners, if there are any. Sometimes cars that have been in accidents, despite being repaired properly, still experience some issues.
Don’t panic if they answer yes, especially if they’ve just been in a fender bender. Some minor bumps here and there won’t damage the engine, suspension or handling of the vehicle.
6. Does the car have any mechanical problems?
Looking under the hood of the vehicle you are purchasing should be one of the first things to do. Since mechanical issues are the most costly problems, you should be aware of potential problems that could lead to expenses in the near future.
After you’ve checked the drivetrain of the vehicle, turn the engine on, so you can hear how it works. Take it for a test drive, so you get a good feel of the car’s condition.
7. Does the car still have a warranty?
Of course, if you are purchasing a 25-year-old car you shouldn’t make a fool out of yourself and ask about the warranty. But if the car is still in warranty, ask how much more it has left. If the warranty is about to expire, you might be able to lower the price a bit.
8. Does the car have a vehicle history report?
Vehicle history reports can come quite in handy since they can provide you with all the info on the car you need, in order to decide whether it’s worth the money or not. You can see the previous owners and service history, as well as how many service visits there have been.
You can look it up either online or with a local used-car dealer. You just need to be sure what the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) of the car is. In some states, the license plate number would also do the job.
9. Do you agree for an independent mechanic to inspect the car?
If you are not the most tech-savvy car enthusiast, you should consider hiring a mechanic to do an inspection for you. Not only will it make you feel better about the decision, but it might end up lowering the price of the vehicle.
Everything that the mechanic says can be used against the seller in order to get a better bargain of the price. It might end up being a good investment that actually saves you money. If the seller refuses to do this, they might be hiding something.
10. Is there any notable damage on the outside of the car?
Purchasing a vehicle that’s impeccable mechanically is your top priority. However, the exterior of the car is also something you shouldn’t neglect. Ask them whether the car has any specific scratches or dents they would like to mention before you visit them for a test drive.
11. Do you have the proper documents – the title of the car?
Without the tile of the car, you shouldn’t pay a single cent. Make sure all the documents are legit and valid. Check the name of the car holder, and make sure they do not still owe money to a lease that might take away the car at any minute.
12. How would the car change how much I pay in car insurance premiums?
Car insurance greatly depends on what year the car is manufactured and how much it costs. Normally, if you purchase a newer vehicle, it will make your car insurance premium rise.
13. Is there any damage to the interior of the car?
Ask about the seats, ask about the cuffing, ask whether they have smoked in the car. Should you be concerned about any stains on the leather or cigarette burns? All of these might give you a good idea of whether you want to visit for a test drive or not. Better ask than be sorry about wasting your time with a visit.
14. Do you know the last time the timing belt was changed?
Cars usually have either a timing belt or a timing chain. Either way, they need to be changed around every 70,000 miles, depending on the model. Make sure you ask so that you don’t get an unpleasant surprise in the first days of your driving.
15. Have you driven the car mainly in city traffic or on the highway?
Highway driven cars tend to be better preserved and much less depreciated in value. Whereas stop-and-go traffic in the city is not a good factor for any car. Don’t get dissuaded quickly when you hear that the owner has used it for commuting across town. It is good to know for what purposes it has been used, regardless.
Questions to ask when buying a used luxury car
What to ask when buying a used Mercedes
When purchasing a used Mercedes-Benz, make sure you search online for the specifics of the model you are going see. Doing research is half the work.
Regardless of what car you are purchasing, the standard questions of why are they selling, and if the car has suffered any accidents are the same. So, start with the same 15 questions mentioned above.
When buying a used Mercedes, keep in mind that they cost a lot to maintain and repair. Be extra careful with the engine inspection and make sure everything works just fine. It is recommended to prepay a mechanic to check the vehicle, especially if you are purchasing a luxury vehicle. When a luxury vehicle breaks down, repair costs can be astronomical.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that most German cars like Audi, BMW, Porsche, and Mercedes use synthetic rubber parts in their engines. This means they degrade quicker than their Japanese or American counterparts. Their engines often experience issues as soon as they run out of warranty. The reasons for this are the environmentally friendly political views of these brands’ home country.
Tips for buying a used Mercedes
Always research your desired model online before you visit a dealership or the owner of the second-hand car you are purchasing. Make sure you read about its common issues and specifics that other previous owners have reported online.
Purchase a reliable Mercedes- Benz model
Not all Mercedes vehicles are created equal. Some make better second-hand cars, others don’t. Stick with models that have been reviewed online as good second-hand Mercedes. Mercedes models that hold up well include, but are not limited to:
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class: 2008, 2009
- Mercedes-Benz C-Class: 2010
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class: 2012
- Mercedes-Benz GLK
- Mercedes-Benz SLK: 2009
What to ask when buying a used BMW
When purchasing a second-hand BMW, you should pay close attention to the drivetrain of the vehicle. Moreover, check for signs of aggressive driving – look at the tires, do they have any strange marks or dents? Are they smooth? If so, most likely the vehicle has been used for entertainment purposes and won’t be a good fit for everyday use.
It’s especially important to ask what the vehicle has been used for. Make sure to also ask the owner what car they are planning on buying next. If they are going for another BMW, they have most likely maintained the vehicle well. Brand loyalists usually are better at servicing their beloved vehicles.
If they are going for another brand, ask them why? Have they been disappointed by BMW? Drivers are very susceptible to form a fanatic relation with their BMWs. They often feel extremely connected to the road, thanks to the sheer driving pleasure this vehicle brand offers.
Tips for buying a used BMW
As with Mercedes-Benz, not all BMW vehicles are suitable for second-hand purchases. Some models and series are not at all reliable, especially after warranty. Make sure you check the reviews of the specific vehicle you’re looking at and see if it’s a good choice beforehand.
Purchase a reliable BMW model
The BMW brand has created a stigma around itself regarding reliability. However, contrary to popular belief, there are some BMW models that last more than 200,000 or even 300,000 miles. Make sure you check the reviews of the specific model and year you would like to purchase and see reviews and complaints.
A few of the best second-hand BMW models are as follows:
- BMW 5 Series: 2010 – 2017
- BMW 1 Series: 2011 – 2020
- BMW X5: 2011 – 2020
- BMW 7 Series: 2001 – 2008
- BMW 3 Series: 1996 – 2006
Of course, there are many other BMW models that you might consider purchasing, but these are just a few of the most reliable ones. Moreover, if you are aiming to purchase a pre-owned BMW, make sure you take it for a test drive. Most German cars look really fancy, regardless of their age and number of owners, but what really matters is the engine under the hood.
Plan for extra costs
Despite choosing the best and most reliable model, you should still expect some form of additional costs. BMW ownership is expensive, more expensive than most cars.
Remember that some parts break more often than others, and you should be aware of what to expect with a certain model. Despite paying $10,000 for a BMW, it might end up costing you $15,000 after the first year of ownership.
What to ask when buying a used Audi
Audis are excellent luxury vehicles with futuristic gadgets. Unfortunately, they have a reputation for spilling and leaking oil, which can be a major issue. Make sure to ask the previous owner if they’ve had any issues with the ignition coil or spark plug, as well as any recent oil or exhaust leaks.
Problems with electrical components are also something that occurs every now and then in an Audi. Make sure to ask all about these issues before taking the car for a test drive.
Tips for buying a used Audi
Make sure you are purchasing an Audi model suitable for your needs. You don’t want to end up with an Audi TT if you have 3 kids. There’s simply no place to put them. Check the Audi’s exterior and thresholds for rust, since some models are quite susceptible to rust damage.
Make sure to check the car’s ownership history and whether it has had any accidents before. Avoid Audis with accidents in their history, as they are very susceptible to oil leaks and it is a somewhat impossible task to properly repair one after a major accident.
Also, ask the owner what purposes the car has been used for. Avoid company cars and rental cars, since they might not be as well taken care of.
Check Audi model Reviews
Regardless of the type of Audi and model, make sure to check the reviews online on the model you’ve chosen. Some German cars are less reliable than others.
Purchase a reliable model
Audi has released numerous models over the years. Some break down directly after warranty, whereas others run for thousands of miles with few to no issues.
Some of the best Audi models to purchase second hand include:
- Audi TT – one of the most reliable sports cars ever made
- Audi Q5 and Q7
- Audi A3
- Audi A4
- Audi A5
The most common issues with Audis are electrical, so be prepared that you may need to pay for electrical-related repair costs.
What to ask when buying a used Tesla
When purchasing a used Tesla, the first thing to ask should be to see the service records. Every owner should easily have these available since the car would have only been serviced by Tesla. You can get a full report on the car with its VIN number at the local Tesla service center.
Compare the service record results by asking questions to the owner to see if they answer truthfully.
Ask about battery degradation
When buying an electric car, the condition of battery is very important. Make sure to ask the owner to fully charge the battery of the car before you arrive for a test drive so that you get a good grasp of battery degradation and how reliable the battery is.
Check the VIN
Ask for the VIN number of the vehicle and check what model it is. Some Tesla models are so alike that you might not be able to tell whether it is a Standard model or a Performance one. By looking up the VIN, you can tell the difference and pay the right price.
Ask to check the trip meters and whether they have been reset
Checking the trip meters of the car is something you should do right away since it might show you how many watt-hours per mile the car has been driven at. This will give you a good understanding of how the owners have been driving the car – aggressively or not. Of course, you should look up the average watt-hours per mile for the model beforehand.
Tips for buying a used Tesla
The warranty of a Tesla car is transferable, so don’t worry about that. Newer Tesla cars use plastic and composite, whereas older Teslas had more metal parts. The first models lack sound insulation.
You should do thorough research on similar model specifics throughout the years so that you get a good idea of what you are looking for and what you are getting.
Avoid vehicles labelled as “Salvaged.” They are only good for parts, regardless of how good the price looks. If you see that word on the registration, run away, and run fast.
Dealing with a dealership
Is it a good idea to buy a used car from a dealership?
Purchasing a second-hand car from a car dealership might be a double-edged sword. Yes, dealerships have a wider selection of cars and financing options, but they often make post-accident cars look brand new, which might result in a dissonance between price and reality.
Regardless of whether you are purchasing from a dealership or an individual, make sure to be knowledgeable about the model you are getting.
How to be sure if a car dealership is legit or a scam?
The easiest thing to do is to check for reviews online. If you cannot find any or you do not trust the reviews, as they can be bought, you can contact the Better Business Bureau and ask to see if there has been a history of complaints against the dealership.
How to avoid being scammed at a car dealership?
The most important thing is to make sure you know the car model you are purchasing like the back of your hand. Ask all good questions that come to mind and don’t hold back. If you get the feeling that they are lying to you, run away. Research. Avoid negotiating on monthly payments, and negotiate in bulk. Don’t feel committed to purchase, you are just looking around.