New or used? Lease or buy? Gas, electric, or hybrid? Buying a car raises lots of questions. This MasterKit has the answers. Our quizzes, articles and videos will help you get the best car for your money by making sure you ask yourself, and the salesperson, the right questions at the right time.
Purchasing a used car can be a nerve-wracking process. But if you're armed with the right information to be able to properly vet the vehicles out there, you'll drive home in a reliable car without any regrets.
Shopping for a used car means keeping your eye on the bottom line and making sure you find a vehicle that is safe and reliable. Getting the style and features you want without paying too much is challenging, but if you ask your salesperson these eight questions up front, you’ll feel like an expert when it's time to negotiate price - and you'll end up in a car without any regrets.
1. How many miles are on it?
The life of a car is measured in miles, not years. Most dealers will tout the year the car was made, but you have to look closely at the mileage. The best value in buying a used car is between roughly 40,000 and 70,000 miles, although you can get good deals in the 90,000 and low 100,000 range, as long as the price is right and you're aware of the maintenance demands of a high-mileage vehicle.
Pro Tip: If a salesperson tells you they were "highway miles," don't put much stock in that. It's true that highway driving takes less of a toll on cars than stop-and-go city driving, but miles are miles.
2. Can I take the car to my mechanic to be looked over?
Most used car dealers will let you take a car off the lot for a few hours to have your mechanic check it out for you. With YourMechanic, you can also have the mechanic come to your house or near the dealership. Consider shopping elsewhere if the dealer refuses or offers to let one of their own mechanics go over it with you.
Unless you're a trained in auto repairs, taking the vehicle to a trusted auto shop is the only way to spot potential problems like worn suspension parts or a poorly maintained engine. And even if you are a trained mechanic, it's much easier to see a car's condition when it's up on a lift.
3. Will you fix that problem before I buy?
If your mechanic spots a problem that's not a fatal flaw, like worn brakes or old shocks, see if the used car dealer will make the repair as a condition of the sale. You don't want to deal with major engine or transmission problems, but many components on a car can be replaced or repaired back to "like new" condition. These repairs might cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but the used car dealer might be willing to complete them at their expense in order to close the sale.
Pro Tip: When a used car salesperson makes you a promise, get it in writing. Whether it's replacing worn brakes before you buy, putting in a new stereo, or giving you free oil changes for the life of the car, make sure it's all part of your sales contract. Even if the salesperson absolutely intends to keep the promise, the service department might not know about it. If it's in writing, you can hold them to it.
4. What does the warranty cover?
One of the benefits of buying from a used car dealer instead of a private seller is that many dealers offer warranties on their "certified pre-owned" cars. It isn't enough to simply look at the length of the warranty — you need to know exactly what the warranty covers. Does it include the powertrain (engine and transmission)? Does it cover parts and labor, or only parts?
Powertrain repairs are probably the most expensive problems to deal with, so a warranty that covers them, sometimes known as a bumper-to-bumper warranty, is worth more than one that doesn't. Labor can account for 50 percent or more of repair costs, depending on the specific type of repair, so a warranty that leaves out labor can still leave you with a hefty repair bill. A warranty that doesn't cover the powertrain or labor costs isn't necessarily a reason to walk away from the sale, but be aware of how valuable (or not) the warranty actually is when you're negotiating the price.
5. Has this vehicle ever been damaged?
Any used car dealer worth buying from will show you the Carfax report on the vehicle you're interested in buying. This report will show you important information about the vehicle's history, including if it has been in any major accidents.
But don't stop there. Ask the salesperson if the car has any damage, as rust or minor cosmetic damage might not show up on Carfax, but are worth knowing about. Also, ask if the car has its original paint. A re-paint could mean it was damaged or that a prior owner was trying to cover up something.
6. Are there any aftermarket parts installed on this car?
Aftermarket upgrades usually increase the value of a vehicle, so at the very least they will influence the price you're willing to pay. They also affect how suitable the vehicle will be for your specific needs. A truck with a towing package is great if you plan to haul a trailer of supplies around, while a back seat DVD player is perfect if you take long trips with your kids.
Beware that some aftermarket products can cause problems. An engine that's been tweaked to generate more horsepower could give you worse fuel economy than you're expecting, and some upgrades might make it difficult for your vehicle to pass state inspections.
7. Why are you selling it?
This is an important question to ask when you're buying a car from a private seller. There's no way to guarantee they'll be honest with you, but it's a good way to get them talking about their experiences with the car. "I'm just looking for something with better mileage," or, "we need a vehicle with more room for our kids," both give you some idea of the vehicle's suitablity. So will, "It's been having trouble starting on cold days." Every bit of information you have about a car is helpful when you make your buying decision.
8. Do you have the title?
This is another question that applies mainly to private sellers. Any reputable dealer has clean titles for the cars they're selling, and buying a car with a lost or disputed title, or a title with a lien against it will cause you headaches down the road. A lien isn't an immediate disqualifier, though it will make the sale more complicated even in the best of circumstances. If the title is lost? Walk away.
Once you have the answers to these questions, you'll be armed with the information to make choosing — and buying — the right used car a painful and worry-free process.