Best Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car
Written by DriveAxis.ca February 02, 2022
For many Canadian consumers, a used car represents one of the biggest purchases they will make in their lives. To get the most for your money when buying a used car, you need to ask the right questions to help you make an informed decision.
Want to know how to get the facts? Here are the best questions to ask when buying a used car.
Why are you selling the car? How long have you owned it?
Find out if the reasons that motivated the owner to sell could apply to you as the car’s new owner. For example, if the seller wants a larger vehicle, it could mean that size is a problem for this car. Also, a recently purchased car that has been put on sale could signify underlying problems.
What is the condition of the vehicle?
Enquiring about the car’s condition gives a private seller a chance to disclose the car’s previous issues and current problems, and allow you to properly set your expectations.
How much mileage is on the car?
A car’s mileage is one of the most reliable ways to determine the value of the car. It explains where the car is in its life cycle, and how much it has depreciated since its initial value. At the same time, don’t be quick to turn down a car with high mileage; for example, a vehicle used for highway commutes has relatively low wear and tear, and can still offer great value as a used vehicle.
Has the car been in any accidents? What is the status of the car's title?
A used car that has been in a minor accident isn’t necessarily a write-off, but one that has been involved in a major accident should raise red flags for you. This is because badly damaged cars can turn out to be high risk purchases for which repair costs outweigh the value of the car.
A Carfax Canada report will fully explain a car’s accident history. This vehicle history report will reveal if it has a clean title, or has been branded as "junk", "flood", "branded", or "salvage," terms that mean car insurance has declared the vehicle a “total loss.”
Has anything on the car ever been replaced or updated?
Repairs and replacement work (like brake pads) ideally increase the value of the vehicle, and can allow you to set an arbitrary timeline for future car investments.
How many owners has the vehicle had? How much has it been driven?
Inquire about previous owners and where it came from to get a sense of the car’s condition and how it was treated over its lifespan. For example, many owners over a short period may suggest skipped maintenance or mistreatment. As well, be cautious if the car has no documented vehicle history.
Can I take the car on a test drive?
You’ll need to take the car on a test drive to get a sense of how well it runs, and if it suits you. Turn the radio off and listen to the way the car runs, checking for unusual sounds from its suspension, engine, and transmission. Test the acceleration and brakes as well as putting the car into different gears that include reverse.
Can I take the car for an independent inspection?
Get a professional’s opinion by taking the car to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection.
Did the car get regular maintenance (from the private seller or the car dealership)?
A well-maintained car should be in good operating condition, so ask for maintenance or service records. Look for a service history that includes regular tune-ups, oil changes, and wheel repair.
If a problem is discovered, can we fix it before purchase?
A problem that is uncovered during the inspection or test drive doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. See if you can negotiate a deal that satisfies both parties.
Do you have a Used Vehicle Information Package? (in Ontario)
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation requires every privately sold vehicle be accompanied by a Used Vehicle Information Package. These documents contain vehicle information as well as the details and paperwork needed to finalize the sale.
How firm are you on price?
Only after all other questions have been asked should you bring up the car’s price. You should make it a habit to always negotiate for a better price. As a rule of thumb, start at 10% below the sticker price, and go up from there. Trust your instincts; ask for a bigger discount if there are similar models to be found in your area, or you have discovered significant problems with the car.
Armed with this information, you now have the answers you need to negotiate a good deal. Whether a private seller or car dealer, ask these questions to buy the vehicle you want, and get the peace of mind you need.
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