Skip to main content

What to Ask When Buying a Used Car: 8 Key Questions

what to ask when buying a used car jpg Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan

When buying a used car, a test drive is an important part of the purchase process. Just as important, however, is “test-driving the seller” — that is, thoroughly questioning the seller before you even see the car to learn as much as you can about the car and to gather an impression of the individual seller or dealership. This can help you rule out vehicles before you waste your time and gives you an initial impression of the car before you move along in the purchase process. If what the seller says — or doesn’t say — doesn’t sit well with you, or doesn’t match what you observe during an inspection and test drive, it’s best to move on to a different option.

Related: Find Used Cars for Sale Under $10,000

Shop the 2020 Hyundai Palisade near you

Used
2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited
84,370 mi.
$28,068
Used
2020 Hyundai Palisade SEL
79,443 mi.
$23,995 $3,493 price drop

Here are eight key questions we think qualify as “must asks”:

1. Why Are You Selling the Vehicle?

You might end up with an honest seller who says the car is junk — and unless a garage project is your thing, it’s time to walk. But if the seller is obviously struggling to avoid saying the car is junk or seems otherwise evasive, that shouldn’t make you feel confident, and you can think about finding a different vehicle for sale.

2. How Many Miles Are on the Odometer?

A vehicle’s mileage impacts its value, and if a seller tells you a number that’s significantly lower than what you see if you test-drive the car, you have another reason to walk away.

3. What’s the Condition of the Vehicle?

Neutral phrasing like this is a good way to gauge the seller’s honesty. Ask follow-up questions about the car’s structural and mechanical condition if the seller avoids discussing those (which they shouldn’t).

4. Does It Have Any Special Features?

If you’re looking for a specific option — leather upholstery, power-adjustable seats — you’ll want to know if the vehicle in question is equipped to your liking.

5. Are You the Original Owner?

Generally, if buying from a private seller, the original owner is preferable. They’re more likely to have the answers you seek, particularly to questions like …

6. Was the Vehicle Ever Involved in an Accident?

Vehicles with an accident history should be worth less. If the seller says it hasn’t been in an accident but an inspection determines otherwise, that speaks to the seller’s honesty or knowledge about the car and should be a concern.

7. Do You Have Service Records for the Vehicle?

Someone who keeps records of the vehicle’s service history likely took better care of the car, and there’s now a paper trail for you to compare to the seller’s version of the car’s history.

8. How Much Are You Asking for the Vehicle?

Again, a neutral question, this time to suggest that the price is negotiable.

More From Cars.com:

Cars.com’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with Cars.com’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of Cars.com’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Photo of Brian Normile
Road Test Editor Brian Normile joined the automotive industry and Cars.com in 2013, and he became part of the Editorial staff in 2014. Brian spent his childhood devouring every car magazine he got his hands on — not literally, eventually — and now reviews and tests vehicles to help consumers make informed choices. Someday, Brian hopes to learn what to do with his hands when he’s reviewing a car on camera. He would daily-drive an Alfa Romeo 4C if he could. Email Brian Normile

Featured stories

202406 inductive road charging scaled jpg
mazda cx 70 phev 2025 01 exterior front angle white scaled jpg
acura mdx 2025 01 cg exterior front angle jpg