Buying a used car, truck or van through a dealer can be a great experience. If you ask the right questions up front, you’ll have the peace-of-mind that you’ve found a quality vehicle at a great price.
When a vehicle is taken in trade, the dealer usually performs a through inspection to decide whether he will auction the car immediately or move it into inventory. Only the best, most saleable vehicles are kept. Most states require dealers to offer a warranty on used cars as well.
As a guideline for deciding whether to purchase a particular car that has caught your eye, here are a few questions to ask the dealer before you get behind the wheel.
1. Is the car part of the manufacturer’s certified program?
If so, ask if you can see the mechanic’s pre-certification inspection. Every certified car has to go through inspection and repair before it can be certified. Ask to see the documentation regarding what was evaluated and what was fixed. In case you have repair issues later, it’s a good to have this piece of paper in your files.
2. How did the dealership obtain the car?
If it was a trade-in to that dealership, ask to see the maintenance records. You don’t need to know the former owner’s name and address, of course. If the vehicle was bought at auction, make sure it was carefully inspected by a mechanic who specializes in that make of used cars.
3. Was the certification a manufacturer’s certification?
The preferred certification is a manufacturer certified pre-owned car. All other certifications are insurance backed programs that may be more complicated to receive compensation from if you need to make repairs.
4. Has any other maintenance taken place on the vehicle?
Quality used vehicles are not only found through certified programs. Most dealers take in good vehicle each and every day. You want to reassure yourself that the chances are minimal that your choice might need immediate repairs. A complete overhaul means you won’t be dealing with service repairs anytime soon after purchasing the car.
5. How long of a test drive is possible?
Ask if the dealer will let you take the car overnight for an extended test drive. Put it in writing that you won’t put more than 100 miles on the odometer, prove you have insurance, and you’ll bring it back with a full tank (if you leave with a full tank).
6. Is a CarFax report available?
Reputable dealers usually offer a CarFax report upon request. Just make certain that the report’s vehicle identification number (sometimes called a “VIN number”) matches the one on the used car you’re considering. The vehicle identification number is found at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side.
7. Can the car be returned after a few days if you don’t like it?
No dealership is going to offer you cash back. Most, however, will probably give you time to rethink the purchase and at least provide you equal value for another car on their lot.
8. How much would the car cost if you paid cash?
All dealers can make money off financing, but in any market, cash should get you a lower price. Figure a reduction of at least 5% off the price. Cash is still king.
9. What new parts can the dealer throw in to seal the deal?
Ask the dealer to throw in a set of new tires or brakes. If the car’s mileage is approaching 100,000 miles, request a new timing belt.
10. Does the dealer take trade-ins?
Life is easier if the dealership takes your present vehicle in trade, especially if you hate selling.