BUYER’S GUIDE: Used Cars – Asking the Right Questions

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Used Car Buyer’s Guide - Asking the Right Questions 01When shopping for a used vehicle, you may soon discover that a few “wild goose chases” are unavoidable.

Fortunately, you can limit the number of those goose chases by asking some key questions over the phone.

When you take advantage of used car websites like, you can get lots of information before you make a call or send an e-mail.

Once you have decided on which vehicle you desire and located one in your price range, use these questions to prevent wasting your valuable time on a bum deal.

Write your questions out and jot down the seller’s answers so you can go back to them if you end up in a face-to-face encounter. Take a moment to visit a reputable evaluation site like NADA and note the clean retail value of the car. You will need this information later if you reach the negotiation process.

What is the vehicle’s model year?

Before you can begin a concise evaluation of the vehicle, you will need to have some pertinent information.

You can begin with the exact year of the vehicle. You will also need the exact make and model, as well as the trim level, engine size, type of transmission, and a brief list of special equipment. The mileage of the vehicle will also be needed.

Check the title status

It may seem amazing but there are rare individuals who will try to sell a vehicle without a title.

I have met with sellers who offered me a vehicle with a title that had a lien attached to it. It is best to ask the seller if he has a clean title in hand for the vehicle before you make a special trip to look it over. Avoid buying a vehicle that does not have a clean title.

Check the vehicle identification number on the vehicle against the number on the title and make sure that you are dealing with the person named on the title.

What is the condition of the vehicle?

I try to keep it simple by classifying vehicles in three categories: Good, Fair, or Bad.

When I make my initial call to the seller, I ask that he (or she) classify their vehicle in one of these three categories. Other car buyers use a more detailed checklist that breaks the vehicle into segments which they ask the seller to rate from 1 to 10.

After the call, they total the rating and take an average to determine whether or not they are interested in the vehicle. Depending upon my intentions for the vehicle, I may choose to end the purchasing experience here if the car is in poor condition.

If the seller describes the car as being in good condition and you arrive to see a vehicle that is in bad condition, don’t hesitate to mention it. You might save someone else a headache in the future.

Since you know better than anyone what is important to you in a vehicle, don’t be afraid to “ad lib” and ask some questions of your own. The more you know about the vehicle in question, the better prepared you will be to negotiate the best price.

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S.M. Darby

S.M. Darby

I am a freelance author with over 25 years of experience as a professional, ASE certified automotive technician and shop owner, muscle car enthusiast, avid street racer, and classic car restoration specialist.