12 questions you might forget to ask when purchasing a used vehicle

A couple of months ago I overhead someone say, “the only stupid question is the one that goes unasked”. Sadly, this information could have been useful to me in so many situations; my past is rife with instances where I failed to ask the right question at the right time. As such, I’ve been left “holding the bag” many a time. To help you avoid the same outcome when buying a used car or truck, we decided to put together a list of some of the most important questions you might forget to ask before you pull the trigger on that purchase.


At the dealership

usedvehicle_images11: “Do you have a clean Carfax?”

Why it’s important to ask: For those who don’t know, a Carfax Vehicle History Report is an invaluable tool used by millions of prospective buyers. Some of the information contained within the Carfax includes: odometer readings, lemon history, frame/structural damage, accident indicators, service and repair information, vehicle usage (like if it was used as a taxi or rental), and recall information. Think of a Carfax report as the medical history of the vehicle.


usedvehicle_images22: “Is this the vehicle’s original colour?”

Why it’s important to ask:  In spite of how it may sound, this question isn’t about passing judgment on someone’s sense of style. It’s more about determining whether or not the paint is hiding something. The condition of the body can do more than raise a few eyebrows – it can raise questions about the owner, the use, and the collision history as well.


usedvehicle_images33: “Do you mind if I check the oil?”

Why it’s important to ask: The oil can be used to diagnose potentially large problems. If you pull out the dipstick and you see white or tan foam, it can mean that water is mixing with the oil. If it’s pure white foam, it likely means that the vehicle has been inactive for a time and it’s just condensation.  If it’s tan foam though, it’s likely the water mixed with the oil is from coolant.


usedvehicle_images44: “Can I see it up on a lift?”

Why it’s important to ask: This one is simple; if you know what to look for, this is a great vantage point to visually identify any glaring problems. Even if you may not be familiar with the underbelly of a truck or car, everyone knows what rust looks like. Additionally, if the dealer can’t be bothered to have the car lifted for you, that should be taken as a pretty big red flag.


usedvehicle_images55: “Does the defrost/heat work?”

Why it’s important to ask: Sometimes a simple question like this is forgotten because of the time of year the vehicle is purchased. Funny as it sounds, some people don’t think to test/ask about it during the summer months. For things like this, it’s important to make a list of the questions you need to ask (and bring it with you) so a temporary lapse of memory doesn’t turn into a costly error down the road.


usedvehicle_images66: “Did the previous owner maintain a service log?”

Why it’s important to ask: This question is equally about finding out how diligent the previous owner was regarding preventative maintenance as it is about finding out what additional work was done.


usedvehicle_images77: “Can I take it to may own mechanic to check out?”[/wpsm_testimonial]

Why it’s important to ask: If you know a mechanic you can trust, it’s definitely worth asking this question. Bear in mind that there may be other innocent reasons for the dealer to decline this request other than the obvious “this guy is trying to hide something” reason.


usedvehicle_images88: “How is it equipped?”

Why it’s important to ask: This question is more about getting the dealer talking. You may have seen an ad for the vehicle and already know the features – but having the dealer tell you about the vehicle could reveal some pretty surprising information they never intended you to know.


usedvehicle_images99: “What is the car’s condition?”[/wpsm_testimonial]

Why it’s important to ask: Quick show of hands, how many of you just rolled your eyes and thought to yourself, “Duh! that’s the first question I’d ask”? Believe it or not, many people don’t ask this question because they think that if there was something worth mentioning, the dealer would be honest and upfront about it. The truth is, while most dealers are honest salespeople there are those among them that are unethical. Don’t let your naivety determine your level of trust. Start by asking this very general question and dig deeper if you sense there is more to tell.


usedvehicle_images1010: “Has the vehicle been recalled?”

Why it’s important to ask: If any recall work has been done on the vehicle, the dealer will in all likelihood have a record of it. This is also a good time to ask if there are any outstanding recall work still needs to be done.


Questions to ask a private seller

usedvehicle_images11“Are you the original owner?”

Why it’s important to ask: Ideally when purchasing a used vehicle from a private seller, it’s from the original owner of the vehicle. The original owner should be able to provide complete service records from the day it drove off the lot, painting a detailed image of the condition of the car.


usedvehicle_images12“Why are you selling the car?”

Why it’s important to ask: What you’re really looking for here is a believable reason. If the person seems distracted or unsure or just generally makes you feel uneasy, it’s best to trust your gut.

The used vehicle purchase can be a trying experience, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Remember that knowledge is power; in this case going into the dealership armed with the right questions to ask can make the difference between getting stuck with a lemon or the gently used quality ride you’ve been looking for.

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