Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car (Key Checklist)

best questions to ask when buying a used car

Buying a used car can be a nerve-wracking experience. Ensuring you get good value for money and don’t end up with a faulty car that’s going to cost you a lot later down the line with an extensive list of repairs can be difficult.

The more you can learn about the car, the better equipped you’ll be to know common problems and pitfalls. This can be achieved through a good old Googling session, however, there are some things that Google can’t answer.

This is why knowing what questions to ask when buying a used car that you can directly ask the seller or check yourself is essential. Also knowing what would be worth researching beforehand. What questions, you ask? Below I’ll go through a list of questions and why they’re important.

Why Are They Selling the Car?

Understanding why they’re selling their car can give you an insight into if there are any underlying problems with the car.

If they’ve just had a baby and now need to upgrade to a bigger car it could be a good indication they’d have otherwise kept the car and it’s in good working order. If they’re wanting to sell it quickly, they even may be willing to sell it at a good price, so

However, if they start acting nervous and change the subject, that could be a red flag that something could be wrong with the car and they’re looking to shift it before something serious breaks.

How Old is the Car?

Fortunately, if you can get access to the number plate before viewing the car, you can search in a variety of places to find the car’s age. For example the government MOT website, or one of the money car buying websites.

This allows you to sense check their asking price as cars rapidly depreciate in value with cars often reducing in value by 40% after 3 years and 60% after 5 years.

Mileage of the Car? Why Mileage Matters

Mileage can be a good indication of the general wear of the car. The average car owner drives their car around 10,000 miles per year, which is now also starting to reduce that’s to more home working.

This will give you an idea of whether the owner has been using their car extensively or just for the odd trip. For example, if the car has done 15,000 miles per year on average, you know it has been used quite heavily, compared to a car that’s only done 5,000 miles per year on average.

This can help you when bargaining on the price, highlighting that certain elements of the car may need to be replaced soon due to more use.

What Has The Car Been Mostly Used For?

Understanding what type of driving the car has been used for can also help with understanding the general wear of the car.

However, please be mindful that some sellers may embellish the truth when asked as it’s generally understood that long-distance trips cause less wear on the car, including breaks, clutch, gears etc.

If the seller has family 300 miles away that they go and visit once a month, so a 600-mile round trip could explain a particularly high mileage that won’t have caused too much wear on the vehicle.

You need to be careful of answers or signs that the vehicle has been used on a significant amount of short journeys, as this can wear the vehicle in a lot of places.

What, if Any Elements of the Car Are Under Warranty?

A lot of used cars, especially private sellers, sell their car “as is” which means that’s no warranty and as soon as you drive away you’re responsible for any problems that need fixing.

Dealerships usually include some warranty on the vehicle which can help give you some peace of mind that if anything serious breaks, usually within 12 months, you’re covered.

You can also purchase a vehicle warranty from certain garages, usually known as aftermarket warranties. So if you are interested in buying a car privately, you could make that a condition of purchase. This will cost you some money, however, if you’re unsure about whether the car has any problems, it can help reduce the risk.

Any Damage to the Outside of the Car?

Damage can be a good indication of how the owner has looked after the vehicle in general. Regular maintenance, ideally preventative maintenance, that is fixing things before they need fixing, can significantly enhance the useful life of a car.

When checking the vehicle, here’s what to look for.

  • Body work and paint: Look for dents, scratches or any rust.
  • Wheels and tires: Check the wheels aren’t scuffed from curbs, whether the tire tread is low and even the type of tyres on the car. Having the cheapest car tyres available can inidicate other maintenance has been done in the same way.
  • Windscreen, lights and mirrors: Check whether there any cracks in the glass, issues with the lights or problems with the mirrors, especially electric mirrors.

Any Damage or Issues Inside the Car?

When you climb in the car, does anything look or even smell wrong? This can be anything from scratches or stains to it smelling like an ashtray. You’re going to be sitting in that position for quite a while, so noticing things now could save you regret later down the line, or even give you something to reduce the price.

Any Mechanical Problems?

Checking whether there are any mechanical problems can be a problem for a lot of people, including myself, as unless there’s a major issue it’s hard to know what you’re looking for.

This is where getting the aftermarket warranty can help as if there is anything major wrong with it that you do miss, you may be covered, just make sure to read the fine print!

Looking at the engine directly and checking for any obvious signs like excessive dirt or leaking fluid can be a good start.

For electric cars, obviously, there’s no engine, however, the extra weight from the batteries can cause things like the suspension to wear quicker.

In both cases, asking for a test drive will help give you a better indication, even if it’s just a short trip around the corner. When driving, does it sound ok? No unexpected rattling or loud clunks?

Has the Car Been in Any Accidents?

Getting the odd scrape in a car park isn’t the end of the world, however, if the car has been involved in a serious accident it may be cause for concern. Depending on the level of the accident there could be ongoing issues, even if on the outside the car looks completely fine.

This could be structural problems, for example, if the chassis was impacted in the crash it could now be weaker, so in the event of a future accident, it may not be as safe as expected. Even if you’re ok with this, it’s best to know beforehand as the value, and especially the resale value of the car will be a lot lower. We’ll get into how to check next.

Vehicle and Service History Report?

This report will help give you some essential information, such as the number of previous owners, accidents and service history. You can find the report online in a few minutes using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or license plate and they are usually provided for free by dealerships.

Ask to See the Ownership Documents

Unfortunately, there are people in the world that want to take your hard-earned money. This can involve selling stolen or heavily modified cars.

To help prevent this make sure to ask to see the ownership documents before agreeing to any purchase so you can ensure they’re the legal owner and everything is ok. If they refuse or try and rush the sale and say they’ll send it later, this can be seen as a major red flag.

How Much Will The Car Cost to Insure?

Checking in advance how much the vehicle will cost to insure can help avoid unexpected heartache and cost after you’ve already bought the vehicle. Some electric vehicles like Teslas have very high insurance premiums or if you’re under 25, cars with larger engines can make the price soar.

If you can get the license plate beforehand, you can run it through one of the popular price comparison websites for a quick quote.

What is the Estimated Resale Value of the Car?

Car valuation sites like WeBuyAnyCar and Parkers can be excellent resources to help understand the resale value of the car and also help with negotiating the price. Having a car valuation can also ensure you have a general idea of the market price so can make sure you don’t significantly overpay for the vehicle.

Can I Test Drive The Car?

If you’re happy with the answers to all the questions above, asking to test drive the car can help make sure you’re getting the car you want. This will help with some of the questions, like whether there are any mechanical problems as they could become very apparent when driving, such as loud noises.

Test driving the car will also be helpful to know if the car is right for you. Some things you can’t ask the owner as are personal to you, for example, whether you enjoy driving the car or if it’s got enough visibility of the road for you.


Buying a used car can be a stressful exercise, especially with the recent increase in prices across the whole market. However, if you’re prepared with what questions to ask and some valuations based on the current condition of the car it should put you in an excellent negotiating position and help ensure you come away with the car you want at a good value.

If you need any help saving up for your new purchase, this post on how to create a personal budget may be useful. Enjoy your new car!