- Reasons for selling the car. If you're buying the car from a private seller, it's good to ask why he's selling it. From his answer, you can gauge if there is something amiss or you can get a sense of urgency the seller has for selling the car, which you can use to your advantage during negotiations.
- Miles on the odometer. Finding out the mileage on a used car is a big factor in pricing, so ask beforehand so you can go to sites like Edmunds.com to get a sense of how much the used car is worth.
- Test drive. Ask if you can take the automobile for a test drive before buying. This will help you find out if there are any obvious kinks and how well it runs.
- Accident record. Find out if the car has been in accidents and what has been done to remedy the problems. Figure out what type of accident it was, where the bulk of the damage occurred, and if the seller filed an accident report. Find out which insurance company handled the claim and where the seller took it for repairs.
- Condition of the car. Ask a general question about the condition of the car, and the seller may bring up issues that you didn't think to ask. After you hear what they have to say, follow up with specific questions on the body and interior of the car just to dig a little deeper. Consumer Reports says you should double-check the key features of the car including "number of doors; transmission type; A/C; antilock brakes; air bags; sound system; power windows, locks, seats, or mirrors; cruise control; sunroof; upholstery material; and so forth."
- Maintenance records. It's best to have as much of a paper trail as you can, so ask if you can take a look at the maintenance records and see how the car has been maintained over the years. You'll be able to find out how many oil changes the car has undergone, which can give you a better idea of how the owner treats his property.
- More records. Take a look at the title, warranty, and Carfax record. Figure out if the car is still under warranty and if it can be transferred to you. Seeing the title can also lower the risk of being scammed. A Carfax report tracks the history of a vehicle based on its Vehicle Identification Number, so remember to get the VIN from the seller.
- Further examination. See what the seller's reaction is if you ask to have your personal mechanic take a look at the car; perhaps you can offer to pay a deposit to leave the car at the mechanic's overnight.
Make sure you do your homework and ask the right questions before taking the leap and buying a preowned car, or you might run the risk of spending more money on a lemon.