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Jan 9, 2020

6 min. read

There are good reasons to buy a second-hand vehicle. At the top of the list? You could get a great deal. After all, vehicles come down in price over time.

On the flip side, there’s also the chance you could end up with a money pit that drains your bank account. Fortunately, we’re here to help you with important questions to ask so you don’t end up with a lemon. It doesn’t matter if the used car is coming from a private seller, a big-name car dealer, or your brother-in-law, asking the right questions can save you big headaches down the road.

Would you rather end up with a diamond or a dud? Read on.

Why are you selling the car?

Let’s start with this one, because it really only applies to a private seller situation. A dealer will be selling the car because that’s what they do and, let’s be honest, you should already know why your brother-in-law is selling his car.

The answer you get will give you insight into the car’s general condition along with a bit of background about the owner. Asking a variation of this question more than once is a good way to note if the seller is misleading you if they provide a couple of different answers.

How long have you owned the car?

Here’s a legitimate question that will tell you if there are pre-existing problems before they become yours.

If a private seller has only owned their car for a short amount of time, it could indicate they bought it and then ran into an expensive problem that’s not obvious. After all, deep-seated transmission issues aren’t always evident during a test drive.

At minimum, be wary if the used car you’re looking at still has a temporary tag, indicating the current owner has had it for less than 30 days. If you’re shopping at a dealer, this question still applies but could be asked in the form of “how long did the previous owner have the car?” They should have this information on hand.

What is its condition and mileage?

This query is great when first inquiring about a used car you’ve found online. If the contact person has trouble describing the car, or does so with several opposing details, they may be trying to pull a fast one. Ask for specific details about the body and mechanics.

Speaking of, don’t be tricked by people and dealers advertising a car as having “only 50,000 miles”. Remember, fifty thousand miles is about eighty thousand kilometres and could mean the difference between a warrantied and out-of-warranty car.

A man and woman standing in front of a car dealership.

Does any warranty exist?

It’s important to ask if there is any warranty coverage left on the vehicle. If the answer is yes, ensure that the terms are transferable to the new owner (that’s you). Not all warranties are.

TIP! While shopping at a dealership, be sure to ask for the car’s ‘in-service date’. This is the calendar mark in which the vehicle began being used as a dealership demo or service vehicle. It is from that date which the warranty clock starts ticking, not when you take ownership of the car. This could be a difference of six months or maybe even a year, depending on the vehicle’s age.

May I see the service history?

Not every used car will have a ton of service paperwork. Any conscientious owner should have a few receipts on hand, giving you the power to make an informed decision on whether or not the car was taken in for regular service by its current owner.

Don't forget, any reputable dealer or above board private seller should not have any issue with you taking the vehicle to an independent mechanic for an inspection. They’ll probably insist on accompanying you to the shop and that’s ok - after all, they can probably help answer questions about the car’s history that you cannot. CAA maintains a list of independent garages specifically for this purpose.

What’s the price?

Always be confident in asking for a fair selling price. The smart consumer researches their objective before stepping foot on a dealer lot, making sure to note selling prices of similar vehicles with similar features and mileage. After all, if you make an offer and the owner doesn’t like it, the worst they can say is ‘no’. Arming yourself with the answers to these questions should give you the information you need to make an informed used car purchase.

CAA Auto Advice.

Do you have your own car-related questions? We'd like to help.

CAA’s Auto Advice team provides Members with free automotive advice. If you have questions about car care, buying a new or used vehicle, auto repairs, vehicle inspection, driving costs and more, contact our Auto Advisors by phone at: 1-866-464-6448 or email autoadvice@caasco.ca. Our licensed technicians and experts will be able to assist you on many of your of car related questions.

Written by: Matthew Guy

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