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Questions to Ask When Buying a Car

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Whether you’re buying your first car or you’ve been through the process many times, preparing a list of questions to ask can help ensure you get the right car for the right price. Be prepared to be your own advocate, and be willing to walk away if you don’t receive the answers you need.

Here are some questions to ask when buying a car.

Questions to ask before heading to the dealership

Before speaking with a salesperson or private seller, decide whether you want to buy a new vehicle or a used one, how much you can spend and whether you have a vehicle to trade in.

  • Budget: Consider your monthly budget and determine how much you can afford or what you want to spend on your next vehicle. This number can help determine whether you go to a dealership or an independent seller, as well as whether you should buy new or used.
  • Car type: Do you want a sedan or an SUV? Truck or hatchback? Compact car or convertible? Knowing your preferences in advance will help you narrow your list of models to consider.
  • Buying versus leasing: Know whether you prefer to buy or lease. Do you want to build equity in your purchase so that you can sell it later, or do you want to drive a new car for the length of the lease and then give it back when the lease agreement ends?
  • Financing: If you plan to finance your car, you can get preapproved for a loan so that you’ll know how much you can spend before hitting the dealership. You can receive up to five auto loan offers by filling out a form with LendingTree.
  • Trade-in: Will you be trading in your current vehicle as part of the transaction? If so, know your car’s value before speaking to the dealer by searching car valuation websites such as Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds or J.D. Power’s NADA guides.

Questions to ask when buying a car

Don’t walk through the dealership door feeling clueless about the nitty gritty of the sale, and don’t leave that way either! Do your research beforehand. Your questions will depend upon whether you’re purchasing from a dealer or private seller, but the essentials remain the same. Here are some questions to ask regardless of whether you’re buying new or used.

What is the out-the-door price?

While the salesperson may want to focus your attention on your potential monthly payment, remaining focused on the out-the-door (OTD) price can keep you from paying too much overall. The OTD price includes additional fees, such as dealer service and handling fees, extended warranties, taxes, title and licensing. These fees can add more than $10,000 to your vehicle’s price, so make sure the seller gives you a detailed breakdown before you leave the lot.

What warranty deals are available?

When choosing among warranty types, it’s important to understand the protections offered by each and whether it’s worth the extra money to you. This is more common for new car purchases, but buyers can often opt for a warranty for used cars, as well. Ask about the warranties that are available with your purchase.

Can I take it for a test drive?

Before you decide to buy, it’s crucial to drive the vehicle to get firsthand experience with it. Not only can you identify any potential problems, but you can also identify whether it’s comfortable and you enjoy the way it drives. Be sure to drive it in both neighborhoods and on the highway, and ideally, in several weather conditions. After you take the car for a drive around the block, ask the seller if you can keep it for a few hours, or even overnight.

Can you beat my preapproved auto loan rate?

Get preapproved for an auto loan so that you can walk into the dealership knowing how much you are comfortable spending. Sometimes, the dealer is willing to beat the deal you have in hand. Dealers may have access to captive lenders, banks set up as financing arms for specific automotive brands, which can offer better interest rates than you could find on your own.

Questions to ask when buying a used car

Buying a used car is a smart choice, especially as current car prices are sky-high. If you’ve found a used car you like, get to know its history. Details such as its accident and maintenance history, age and mileage and the status of its title are important to know.

What’s the ownership and maintenance history?

It’s important to know how many owners a used vehicle has had and how it was maintained. Ask if the car has been serviced at a dealership or by an independent mechanic, and determine whether maintenance records are available. A vehicle that’s had many owners may indicate that the car has serious mechanical problems — so much so that the previous owners sold it rather than fixed it. One to three owners for a six-year-old car is normal.

Has it been in an accident?

Accidents and collisions, even if repaired by a certified mechanic, still impact the value of your vehicle by thousands of dollars. A low-speed accident that only bent a fender is no big deal, but a high-speed collision can spell trouble and lead to potentially costly repairs down the line.

Even though the vehicle’s history report is supposed to contain this history, some sellers may try to hide or omit certain incidents. So ask the seller about accidents, damages, repairs and malfunctioning features, such as weak air conditioning or touch screens with cracks or missing pixels.

Do you have a vehicle history report I can see?

The seller should have a folder that contains the vehicle’s service records and vehicle history report. Vehicle history reports typically contain a lot of data about the vehicle, including accident information. They may not have everything, but they can be an excellent source of information that you can use to confirm what the seller is telling you.

What’s the mileage and age of the car?

Always ask the seller about the mileage and the age of the car. Gone are the days of rolling back the odometer, but make sure the vehicle’s mileage and history report corroborate what the seller tells you. The more life experience the car has, the more likely it’ll soon need repairs. Older cars can still be a good choice if they’ve been well-maintained and have never been in a major accident, especially if they’re a brand known for longevity.

Can I take the car for an independent inspection?

If you are serious about buying the car, ask if you can take it to a mechanic for an inspection. Credible sellers should not balk at this. Consider any pushback to this request a red flag. A visit to the mechanic may cost you $100, but it could help you avoid buying a lemon and will give you peace of mind that the vehicle is roadworthy.

Does the vehicle have a clear title?

Make sure the seller has the title in hand and that it’s clear, meaning that the owner has paid off any loans and the lender has transferred the title to the seller. Knowing if the title is free and clear can save a lot of time and hassle as you come closer to finalizing the sale. Here’s what you need to know about how to transfer a car title and what to do if the title is lost.

Questions to ask when buying a new car

Your salesperson should be able to answer all of these questions as you go through the car-buying process. Google is a great backup, but if the dealer isn’t able (or willing) to answer many of your questions, you may want to find another dealer to work with.

Do you have the car I want in stock?

Worldwide supply chain shortages mean that dealers are not carrying as much inventory as usual and that ordering a specific model (i.e., paint color, upgraded engines) can take several months, or closer to a year in some cases. Be sure to ask if the configuration that you want is in stock before pinning your sights on it.

What additional fees will I be charged?

Be sure to ask about additional fees included in the OTD price. Common dealer fees for new car purchases include a vehicle registration fee, sales tax, documentation fee, service and handling fees, extended warranties and taxes, title and licensing. It’s easy to rack up an extra $10,000 in fees, so ask your dealer for a detailed breakdown and figure out which fees are negotiable.

Can I see the buyer’s order?

The buyer’s order includes a description of the vehicle being sold, everything you’re paying for and how much it is, including warranties and vehicle options. The buyer’s order is binding, so don’t sign the contract without reading it through.

What rebates or incentives are available?

Automakers and dealerships often use new car rebates and incentives as a way to sell vehicles. These can vary from 0% APR financing deals to rebates worth thousands off the car’s price to a year of free oil changes. The deals available usually change monthly and the best ones may only apply to very specific vehicles of a certain year, model, trim and package. Ask the salesperson when you’re buying a new car what rebates are available on the type of car you want.

What financing terms are available?

​​When buying a new car, you can finance the purchase through the dealer’s captive finance arm, but the best rates and terms can often be found at independent lenders, such as banks or credit unions. You’re more likely to be offered favorable rates if you have a high credit score, so check your credit score before applying for financing.

Can I test drive a used version of this car?

If you want to get an idea of how your new vehicle may age, ask the dealer if they have a used version on hand for a test drive. Try to get an earlier model within the current generation, and pay attention to how it drives, any noises or smells and the wear and tear on interior finishes.

 

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