Are you on the hunt for that perfect ride, but don’t want any nasty surprises down the road? Well, if that is the case, you want them salesmen spilling their beans like they’re in the confession booth. That’s where this guide comes in.

When buying a used car, a checklist of questions can be a thing that makes or breaks the entire experience. Today, we’re here to ensure each of your inquiries is relevant so that you’ll end up purchasing a reliable vehicle from a reputable dealer. Let’s dive in!

What questions to ask when buying a used car?

Before we put the pedal to the metal and race down the track of questions, first, we must make an important pit stop: understanding why making these inquiries is important in the first place. 

The truth is, without a checklist for buying a used car from a dealer, the whole ordeal can go south really fast for two main reasons:

  • First, legitimate dealerships are rare and scammers are plenty. As such, ensuring you’re dealing with the former guarantees a smooth, hassle-free process and your peace of mind.
  • Second, you can never be 100% sure what state the vehicle is in. Being able to conduct a thorough inspection ensures you’ll be spared the heartache of empty pockets and a scrap heap adorning your driveway.
buying a used car checklist

With these two points in mind, we can see that your priorities should be to determine:

  • Legitimacy of the dealer or dealership;
  • Overall state and future reliability of the car.

Now we can proceed to a comprehensive buying a used car checklist.

Questions about the dealer/dealership

Our first set of questions goes to establish the dealer’s legitimacy.

Q1: Are you a licensed and accredited dealer?

In Texas and nearby Louisiana, dealerships must possess a license to sell used vehicles. This authorization is issued by the respective state’s Used Motor Vehicle Commission (UMVC) and guarantees that the dealer operates in compliance with state and federal laws governing the sales of vehicles.

In a similar manner, accreditation from relevant authorities and associations, such as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), signifies that the dealership adheres to industry standards and regulations.

Significance: Working with a dealer that operates within the confines of the law significantly reduces your chances of encountering fraudulent practices or buying a car with hidden issues.

Q2: How long have you been in business?

The track record length can be an excellent indicator that the business is reliable. Otherwise, their business would likely be out of business. Dealerships that have been on the scene for a while generally inspire more confidence and are more proficient in addressing customers’ needs.

Significance: Experience in handling various aspects of the car buying process can provide for a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

Q3: Can you provide a list of referrals?

Exploring the opinions and experiences of your peers can be a great tool in discerning the levels of professionalism and integrity of a dealership. If the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, that means that the business fosters transparency and honesty in dealing with customers.

If the feedback is negative, it should raise some red flags, but shouldn’t prompt you to immediately dismiss them as an option. Rather, take some time to uncover the reasons behind negative comments and how the issues were resolved.

More often than not, good dealerships will go out of their way to address customer feedback, but customers will seldom rewrite the reviews. Therefore, although this question has a slightly lower importance rating, you should definitely include it on your used car buying checklist.

Significance: Following up with referrals gives you a direct insight into how the dealership operates and treats its customers.

Questions about the vehicle

Our second set of questions will help you determine the state and future reliability of your car. Also, it will give you even more ways to catch some red flags about the dealership.

Q4: What is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)?

Like humans have fingerprints, cars have VINs. This is a unique identifier, specific to a singular vehicle, that allows you to obtain its detailed history report by simply entering it on the DMV website. The vehicle history report is a treasure trove of valuable information, including things such as:

  • Accident reports;
  • Vehicle title issues;
  • Service reports.

Significance: By obtaining VIN and associated reports, you can assess the car’s general condition within minutes and without leaving your home.

Q5: Can I see the maintenance records?

While service records obtained through a VIN checkup provide a broad overview of the vehicle’s condition, maintenance records deal with details on regular upkeep. Things like oil changes, brake inspections, and other forms of preventative maintenance (scheduled or unscheduled), should all be neatly noted in the documentation.

Significance: Maintenance records will provide invaluable insight into the quality and regularity of care the vehicle received over the years, giving you confidence about its potential future reliability.

Additional note: Considering how much raw info you can pull from the above two sources alone, double and triple-check your checklist before buying a used car to ensure you’re not leaving them out.

Q6: Has the car undergone any recent inspections or repairs?

This is one of the questions on your used car buying checklist that can help you determine the reliability of the car and the dealer. If they’ve conducted recent repairs to address specific issues or performed a thorough inspection, and have those actions documented atop it all – well, that means they’re not messing around; they want to sell you a car that you can thoroughly rely upon for a foreseeable future!

Significance: Transparency about repairs and inspections means that you’re dealing with an honest dealer, who took the necessary steps to ensure the vehicle they’re selling is reliable.

Q7: What is the mileage on the car?

OK, we’ve all seen this one coming. Mileage is one of the most important factors in determining the overall extent of a vehicle’s wear and tear. In general, lower mileage means the car has seen less usage, thereby indicating that the components are in better condition (and vice versa). 

Significance: Mileage helps you better assess the vehicle’s condition, estimate its potential lifespan, and anticipate future maintenance requirements, as well as determine the price with more certainty.

Q8: Can I have the car inspected by an independent third party?

In this case, the “independent third party” is the auto mechanic that you know and trust. The benefits of having them inspect the car are twofold:

  • A skilled professional will provide a more comprehensive evaluation of the car’s state, primarily in terms of structural, mechanical, and electric components.
  • If the dealer tries to dissuade you or outright refuses to allow independent inspection, that can be a sign they’re trying to conceal something from you.

Significance: Independent inspection may reveal issues that the dealership did not disclose, and help you further discern the dealer’s honesty.

Q9: Are there any known issues with the car?

Tying into the previous point, dealerships are generally expected to disclose any (known) issues. However, not all choose to do so – unless you explicitly ask them. Posing this question enforces transparency, prompting them to provide comprehensive information. Also, it opens some more possibilities for negotiation to either drive the price down or have the issue resolved.

Significance: Knowing about the existence of the issues and their severity helps you assess potential repair and maintenance costs. Alternatively, it gives you a foothold during the negotiation process.

Q10: Can I see the vehicle’s title and registration?

Insight into these documents helps you ascertain if the seller has undisputable and legal ownership of the vehicle. It also confirms that there are no liens, encumbrances, or other outstanding issues with the title that can cause complications in the future. 

checklist for buying a used car from a dealer

Significance: Checking the title and registration documents verifies the legal status of the vehicle, as well as ownership history.

You won’t need a checklist when buying a used car from B.Y.O.T.

That’s right – here at B.Y.O.T., we pride ourselves on transparency as much as we do on the vast selection of quality used vehicles for sale. Whether you’re looking for an efficient little compact that will slither like an eel through the busy streets of College Station or a trusty SUV for your family outings to Somerville Lake, rest assured that dealing with us will result in a purchase you’ll enjoy for years to come. Connect with us today and let us find you your dream ride!