By Anthony S

March 10, 2023

I know exactly how you feel when you start the search for your next car. It's an exciting yet daunting time to be alive.

How do you make sure that you are getting the best deal? I'm the type of guy that looks for a good deal, and I have purchased brand-new and used cars.

Trust me...once the new car feeling wears off, or the honeymoon stage, you might feel the dread of the huge car payment. From experience having no car payment is the BEST feeling in the world as a driver.

Let's get into exactly what you need to ask yourself and think about with your next vehicle.

With so many options and conflicting advice, figuring out where to start can take time. Before you take the plunge and buy a used car, there are some important questions to ask.

This article will provide an overview of what to look for when buying a used car so you can drive away with peace of mind.

Top Used Car Picks Based on Data and Industry Experts

How was your experience buying a used car for the first time?

My first experience buying a used car was nerve-wracking. After all, I didn't want to waste my hard-earned money on something that wasn't worth it. Thankfully, I could thoroughly examine the car and test drive it with my dad.

He and I looked over every inch of the car and gave me his honest opinions about its condition. This made me feel much more confident about buying the car since it was my first time.

It's always good to bring someone who knows a little bit about cars and is a car owner as well.

Buying a used car can be daunting, but with the right knowledge and resources, you can feel confident in your purchase. Now that I've been through the process, I'm happy to share the ins and outs of car buying.

Later, we will cover common questions like "does the number of previous owners matter"?

Read on...

What are the most important questions to ask when buying a used car?

When buying a used car, there are some important questions to ask that can help you make an informed decision. First, you should narrow down your budget.

Typically, you want your monthly car payment to be at most 25% of your monthly take-home income. Some financial experts take a more conservative approach and say no more than 15% of your take home.

However, if you have already saved up a good amount of money for a big downpayment or the full amount, that is much better in the long run. Paying the full amount is always a better move financially.

Remember to set a realistic budget and stick with it - don't let yourself get swayed by an attractive price tag! Then make sure to do your research and check out reviews for the vehicle in question. It's also wise to ask for recommendations from friends or family who may have purchased similar cars.

Once you know how much you want to spend, you will need to research more about ownership and, typically, costs.

If you pick up any of the models for the Top Used Cars above, your maintenance costs should be minimal.

If you are looking at other models not on the list, it's important to find out the vehicle's history, including past owners and any accidents or repairs it may have had.

Doing a little research can help separate good buys from great ones. It can also help avoid potential lemons.

Click here to download BuyCarBlog's free Used Car Buying Guide instantly.

It would help if you also asked about the condition of the car's components, such as brakes, suspension, engine, and transmission.

Should you buy from a dealership or a private seller?

I have purchased cars in the past from dealerships and private sellers. However, I have always found better deals with private sellers since they do not have any overhead or administrative costs to cover.

Most recently, I purchased a CLA250 from an online dealership called Carvana. You can read more about my Carvana experience here.

If its your first car, I suggest private sellers, since you can better understand the owners and how they took care of the vehicle.

Check for Recalls

Additionally, you should check for recalls or open safety recalls related to the model and year of the model you are looking at.

To check for open recalls, you can input the VIN number in MyCarFax.com or by visiting https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.

Simply input your vin and you will be able to check for any recalls.

If everything checks out, you might wonder when is the right time to ask the seller to have a prepurchase inspection done or PPI.

Keep reading to find out what etiquette to use when requesting a pre-sales inspection by an independent mechanic.

What is the etiquette to request a pre sales inspection by an independent mechanic regarding buying a used car?

When buying a used car, it's always a good idea to have an independent mechanic look at the vehicle before you commit to the purchase. Not only will this help ensure that the car is in good working order, but it can also give you peace of mind knowing that what you're getting is a solid purchase.

But how do you go about requesting this pre-sales inspection without being rude?

From my experience, the seller will be more open to the idea if you do the following:

  1. Cover all costs involved regarding the PPI
  2. Put a non-refundable deposit on the car, since you will take time away from the seller.
  3. Make it convenient and easy for the seller to schedule the PPI

Being polite and respectful when reaching out for such a request is important. Be sure to introduce yourself and explain why you'd like to have an inspection done.

This is especially true if the purchase is over $10,000. A small investment of a few hundred dollars will help save you thousands if you buy a problematic car.

Then, please provide as much information as possible about the car, including its make, model, year, and mileage.

Make sure to ask questions and raise any concerns about the vehicle with your mechanic during their inspection.

The inspection should take a few hours to 1 day to service and check the car. I recommend taking it to a dealership or a specialized auto shop familiar with the vehicle. You DO NOT want to take it to a place that does not work on the car since they may need to learn the common issues to check.

Thanks to a mechanic's pre-purchase inspection, you can be confident that any issues with your used car will be identified and addressed before you drive away.

Now that you know some of the essential steps for buying a used car, prepare for the next section on how to make your first used car purchase enjoyable!

Remember, having an independent mechanic inspect a used car before you commit to the purchase can give you peace of mind and confidence in your decision.

What's a good checklist to follow when buying a used car?

Buying a used car can be a great way to save money, but it's important to do your research and take the time to go through the proper steps before making any commitments.

To help you on your journey, I've compiled a checklist of things to consider when buying a used car.

Here's how to check the vehicle

I've looked at hundreds of cars over the years and will share my tips and tricks on exactly what you need to check. t's important to inspect it thoroughly before making a final decision.

This will help avoid any issues and empower you to better understand the tell-tale signs of a potential problem. In fact, this will ensure that the vehicle is reliable and won't end up costing you more money down the line in repairs.

Here are some tips for what to look for when inspecting a used car.

Exterior

While examining the car, look for any signs of rust or corrosion on its exterior. This could mean there is damage to the structure, or it may only require a new coat of paint.

If upon inspection of the vehicle, you observe a copious amount of dirt and blemishes like scratches or dents, likely, its owner didn't take proper care when maintaining upkeep. Pay particular attention to spots such as the body panels and roof for signs of rusting or any other noticeable damage.

Rust is a menace that, if not properly taken care of, can speedily spread and cause extensive damage. It can make paint bubble up, corroding floor panels, and weakening the subframe over time. So take caution!

Guarantee that the paintwork is uniform throughout, with matching colors and textures between panels. If it was in an accident, check for any signs of misalignment or difference in shade.

The vehicle history report will list any reported accidents. However, if a previous accident was never reported, it would not appear on the Carfax.

You can test suspected repairs by placing a magnet on that area; if it sticks, no body filler is likely present.

Interior

Examining the interior of a pre-owned car can provide an insight into how well it was maintained.

I typically do a sniff test to see if the interior has any weird or musty smells with the air conditioning.

If there are smells then you can follow the same steps in our article to help get rid of odors and smoke smells. Water intrusion or flood damage can be masked with heavy air fresheners. Be wary of heavy perfumes.

Begin by thoroughly examining the dashboard, steering wheel, buttons, knobs and switches to ensure they function correctly.

Additionally, it would be best if you were sure to assess the upholstery for rips and tears and peek beneath the seat cushions looking out for any wear or dirt. Moreover, it is wise to scour carpets for stains and examine any other fabric areas such as door panels or headliners.

Last but not least, if you hope to keep your car for over a few years, take the initiative and replace any worn out parts with new ones. This simple task can save you from shelling out lots of money on repair costs in the future!

For more tips on what to check, you can instantly download the BuyCarBlog's free Used Car Buying Guide by clicking here.

FAQS:

Does fewer miles mean a better deal when buying a pre-owned car?

On the surface, a car with low mileage may appear to be an appealing option when purchasing pre-owned; However, from my experience, a complete maintenance history and regular service intervals are more important.

Technically, lower mileage can help reduce strain on the drivetrain, I'd prefer a vehicle with a full and detailed service record is much more valuable.

One of the most important services to check are oil changes. Oil changes are critical to avoid sludge buildup in the engine. Oil should be changed at least once a year despite miles driven. This will ensure that the oil is always clean and contaminants are removed.

Do you know that brakes and tires perform better if used more often? Dry rot or flat spots in the tires can occur if the vehicle sits long.

A car that has been dormant for some time may require extra maintenance or servicing to get it up and running again.

In the end, a low mileage rating may suggest an excellent choice; nevertheless, it is essential to thoroughly research and inspect the car before settling on a final decision.

Does the number of previous car owners matter when buying a used car?

Short answer: Yes. 

One of the factors to consider when purchasing a used car is how many previous owners it has had. In my free guide, the maximum number of owners is 3-4. Anything more than that might spell trouble in the long run.

The ONLY exception to the rule are exotics or supercars with impeccable service records. But you won't fall into this category this time if you are like me.

It can be helpful to know how many people have owned the vehicle before you so that you can get an idea of its overall condition.

For example, if the car has had one owner for most of its life, it was well taken care of and maintained regularly. On the other hand, having several different owners could mean that the car has yet to be serviced or checked as often. This could result in more repairs being needed down the line.

It's also important to ask each of the previous owners why they got rid of the vehicle.

If they only drove it for a short time and then sold it, this could indicate an underlying problem with the car that might not have been uncovered during an inspection. My other personal rule is to check if the owner had to car for AT LEAST 1 full year.

If the seller only had the car a few months, that might indicate a repair bill waiting to happen or potential repairs that the owner did not want to spend any additional money on.

Knowing how many owners a used car has had can help you make an informed decision about whether or not it's right for you. 

Ask questions and look closely at all aspects of the vehicle before committing to your purchase - no matter how many previous owners it may have had!

Is the Current Owner a Car Enthusiast?

I would factor in if the seller or owner of the car is a car enthusiast. However, you do run into a potential situation where the seller will over estimate their asking price because "They KNOW what they HAVE"

Why a car enthusiast might be preferred over an average seller?

Car enthusiasts are passionate about their vehicles and often invest in quality parts and repairs.

They are also more likely to provide a detailed rundown of any problems or areas that need attention.

Pay close attention to their answers—enthusiasts usually go into great detail when discussing their vehicles, while those who aren't as passionate may be less forthcoming with information.

In this case, I would add up to an additional $1,500-$2,000 on the market price if the service intervals are current and there are NO ISSUES with the car. You can easily end up paying this additional cost in repairs but in the end, it is up to you.

However, ideally, their asking price should be around the true market value.

True automotive lovers will be excited and energetic when speaking about cars that's hard to miss!

Final Thoughts: Ask the Right Questions

When buying a used car, asking the right questions can make all the difference.

Knowing what to ask is just as important as knowing what to look for.

Make sure you get an answer to the following questions before making any decisions:

  • How many owners has it had?
  • Does it have a clean title?
  • What type of service/maintenance records are available?
  • How long have you owned it?
  • Why are you selling?

When you ask the right questions, you can rest assured that your used car purchase will be a sound investment.

And now that you're armed with this knowledge, it's time to dig deeper and find out if the next vehicle is right for you!

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Anthony S

About the author

I am a passionate car enthusiast who likes to help people save money and avoid headaches when it comes to cars. I believe that everyone can find the right car at the right price. I share my tips and experience so you can learn quickly and maximize your next SUV, truck or car purchase.

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