Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

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Buying a used car can be stressful. Why is the owner selling it? Is there any hidden damage needing future repairs? Is this the right car for me?

Fortunately, you can reduce the stress.

We ask (and answer) questions to ask when buying a used car.

1. Has it been modified in any way?

Most car buyers prefer an unmodified vehicle. This is because original parts could be covered under warranty, using generic parts may void warranties and some modifications are a tell-tale sign that the vehicle may have had a rough life.

This could be off-roading equipment that signals the vehicle has been subject to unstable terrain for example.

Good answers

The vehicle comes with all original parts and/or the only modifications are superficial. These could include seat covers, pet barriers or similar.

2. Does it have a clean title?

This means the documented vehicle history. A PPSR (Personal Property Securities Register) is available online and lists whether a vehicle has been reported as written off, stolen or has any finance owing.

Obtaining a PPSR can attract small costs, but it’s worth it if you’re serious about buying a particular vehicle.

A repaired write-off might have structural damage and void warranty.

Buying a car with finance owing on it can mean you’ll need to disperse some funds to the seller and some to the finance company.

Good answers

The PPSR confirms the vehicle has never been reported as stolen or written off and has no money owing on it.

3. Why is it for sale?

This question would apply to a private seller, not a dealership.

People sell cars for all kinds of reasons - some genuine and some not so genuine.

Knowing why someone is selling a car is a good way to get some clues as to whether there’s anything wrong with it.

Hopefully the seller will be honest.

Good answers

People genuinely upgrading or downsizing their car or sellers who may have received use of a work vehicle and no longer need the car.

Sometimes people sell their cars for ‘urgent’ reasons like legal fees, but are they being honest?

4. What is the odometer reading?

Naturally, you’ll want a vehicle with minimal kilometres on it. These generally have less wear and tear and will have more life left in them.

However, low-mileage vehicles may not be an option for all buyers. The older the vehicle, the more care you’ll need to take when inspecting it.

Good answers

Low kilometers as per the age of the vehicle. The average Australian drives 13,000-14,000km per year.

5. Is the maintenance log book up to date?

It’s pretty crucial that the vehicle has been maintained as per manufacturer recommendations.

This means an up-to-date service log book through qualified mechanics.

If a service is due soon, you’ll have to foot the bill if you buy the car. If this is the case, you might be able to use this to negotiate the price down.

Good answers

The service log book is perfectly up to date.

6. How long have they owned the car?

This question would not apply to a dealership selling a used vehicle.

An owner selling a car shortly after buying it raises concerns. Have they bought it only to find problems?

They might be trying to flip the car for profit too, not necessarily a bad thing so make sure to weigh up all the seller’s answers.

This question may tie in with question 3.

Good answers

The seller has owned the vehicle long enough to have serviced it at least once and not raise too many suspicions about the length of time they’ve owned it.

7. Is it still under warranty?

Buying a late-model used car usually means the vehicle is still under warranty from the manufacturer.

Some car brands have extended warranties up to an amazing 10 years.

Note that some manufacturers void their warranty for a few reasons. These can include;

  • The vehicle not being serviced at the correct intervals
  • Maintenance work carried out by an unauthorised mechanic
  • Non-genuine parts used
  • A repaired write-off

Good answers

Yes, it is still under warranty.

8. Can I get an independent inspection? / Will an independent inspection find anything wrong with the car that you know of?

Getting an inspection done by a professional will cost money, but can save you money at the same time.

The report typically lists anything wrong or in need of repair on the vehicle and can give you an idea of the prices to carry out the work.

Furthemore, you may be able to use any issues discovered to knock the price down.

Good answers

Minimal or no damage or repairs needed. Nothing major due in the near future.

9. What kind of person is/was the previous owner?

This can be a tough one. Asking yourself this question means finding out if you feel the seller took good care of the car, cleaned it regularly, parked it securely and drove it gently.

Hopefully the seller gives you a good impression, is polite and seems the kind of person to respect vehicles.

Good answers

The seller is someone who is trustworthy and who treated the car with care. They didn’t tow trailers over the specified weight limit or zip over potholes for example.

10. Will I look forward to driving this car?

If prior to driving the vehicle, you actually look forward to sitting in it and driving it, you’ll find yourself taking much better care of it than if you dread driving it.

Avoid neglect by buying a car you look forward to driving.

Good answers

You’ll like driving the vehicle, like being seen in it and like its capabilities.

Answers to the questions to ask when buying a used car

The more answers that suit your needs, the better. Take the time to chat with sellers whether they’re dealers or private.

Some people assume all dealers are out to rip them off or assume every private seller is trying to hide something. This is simply not the case.

Always be polite and try not to low-ball sellers or pick their vehicles apart in an attempt to knock the price down as much as possible. It’s much nicer to deal with polite and honest people.

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