The Top 10 Questions to Ask a Used Car Dealer

Car shopping
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Don’t be intimidated when buying a used car from a used car dealer. Make sure you have done your homework ahead of time about the used car’s values and then consult this list of essential questions. 

  1. If the car is certified, can I see the mechanic’s pre-certification inspection? Every certified car has to go through an inspection before it can be certified. Ask to see that paperwork to find out what was fixed. It’s a good piece of paper to hold onto for future problems.
  2. Who was the vehicle purchased from? If it was a trade-in to that dealership, ask to see the maintenance records. Tell them they can black out the owner’s name and address. If it was bought at auction, make sure it is gone over with a fine-tooth comb by a mechanic who specializes in inspecting used cars.
  3. Who certified a used car that is called certified? The only certification that means anything is a manufacturer certified pre-owned car. All others are insurance-backed programs that I have rarely heard good things about.
  4. How long of a test drive can I take? The used car market is somewhat cold. Take advantage of it. See if the dealer will let you take the car overnight for an extended test drive. Put it in writing that you won’t put more than 100 miles on the odometer, prove you have insurance, and you’ll bring it back with a full tank (if you leave with a full tank).
  5. Is a CarFax report provided before purchase? A reputable dealership will have no problem with this. A disreputable dealership might, or worse yet, might present a doctored report. Make sure the report’s vehicle identification number matches the VIN on the used car you’re looking at.
  6. What is the dealership’s return policy? High-pressure dealerships will probably laugh at this question. However, a consumer-friendly dealership will probably give you time to rethink the purchase and at least provide you equal value. No dealership is going to offer you cash back.
  7. What is your cash price for this used car? Cash is king, even at used car dealerships. Dealers try to make money off financing, but in any market, cash should get you a lower price. Figure to cut 5% off the price. Point out to the dealer it eliminates a lot of work on their end when you plop cash on the table.
    1. If the dealer won't give you a deal for cash, ask what kind of consideration they will give you for doing the financing through them. Just make sure the rate they offer is equal to or lower than what your bank or credit union would offer. Dealers make money off financing and currently (Fall 2010) are desperate for trade-ins to sell to other customers.
    2. Cash should still get you a lower price but sometimes financing can work to your advantage, too. Either way, make your money work for you towards a lower purchase price.
  8. What new equipment comes as part of the purchase? See if you can get the dealer to throw in a set of new tires. A timing belt might be a nice touch, too, if the used car’s mileage is approaching 100,000.
  9. What service has the dealership performed on the used car since acquiring it? This helps you determine what value you’re getting for your purchase. Complete overhauls mean you won’t be dealing with service repairs anytime soon after purchasing the car.
  10. Do you take trade-ins? This makes your life a lot easier if the dealership will handle this for you. Don’t let yourself get tied up in trying to sell your own used car, especially if you hate selling.