You may have found the car of your dreams, but before you get too carried away you need to ask the seller some serious questions. The more information you have on hand, the best overall picture you will get of the vehicle and whether it’s worth buying or whether you continue your search, and you can do this before you even have to leave the comfort of home.
It is important to not only build a friendly relationship with the seller (which could work in your favor towards getting a better deal), but to also establish a clearer impression of how the car has been looked after and whether it’s worth taking to the next level of a close-up inspection. Note: Don’t start your inquiry with ‘What’s your best price’ or a prefilled query such as ‘Hi, is this available?’ Make it more personal and send an educated response, otherwise you risk losing out on the car. Some people don’t answer generic questions or ones that ask for the best price straight off the bat. In fact, sellers will sometimes put in their advert they won’t respond to ‘best price’ queries and prefer to discuss in person if the buyer is really interested. With that said, here are a few questions to get you started if they are not already answered in the listing.
1. Can I ask how many owners has the car had, and why are you selling the car?
The number of owners can have a bearing as to why the vehicle is being offered for sale. The car could have past issues that keep recurring even after being previously fixed as an example. If they haven’t listed the reason for selling, then inquire as to why. Often the answer will be they have upgraded to a new or newer car, don’t drive anymore, or no longer require the car as they work from home for example. However if they come back with ‘I can’t afford to fix it’ or ‘I don’t have the time to get it repaired’, then you need to delve deeper as to the specific problems and get quotes from a couple of different mechanics so you can factor these costs into your budget and offer a price that reflects the issues that need resolving if you still think the car is right for you.
2. Do you have the vehicle maintenance history, car manual, and spare keys?
This is essential to know what has and what hasn’t been in regards to regular service history, the last time parts were replaced such as the brakes, air filters, and the timing belt (if it has one). You can look further into these records when you inspect the car yourself. While you can find downloadable car manuals online, car keys can cost a few hundred dollars – especially ones that have remote controls and other technical wizardry.
3. Can you send me some photos (or more photos) of the car?
If the listing doesn’t have any images, then you definitely need to ask for some. If the photos provided are blurry, taken at funny angles, don’t show enough areas of the car, or there’s not enough, then you have every right to ask for clearer images – asking for specific areas you want to see more of.
4. Does the car have a branded title?
This is important as a car with previous damage that has been repaired and doesn’t show in the pictures is a RED flag. If the branded title is for hail damage, then it doesn’t affect the engine so you could pick up a cheap car with low mileage. However, the cost to fix hail damage is quite expensive (I was quoted a minimum of $7,000 to repair hail damage to every panel on a small 2010 Ford Focus XR5 Turbo when I saw one online for a bargain – or so I thought). For more detailed information on ‘Branded Titles’ check out https://rearviewreview.com/what-is-a-branded-title/
5. Does the car have a reconditioned or new engine?
I use this question if I think the car has extremely low mileage for the year. You may also ask ‘I just wanted to confirm the mileage listed at 22,000 (or whatever it may be) is correct?’ I have quite often found that the seller has left off a zero accidently and the real figure is much higher.
6. Are there any issues I should be aware of before I get an inspection done?
This should prompt the owner to give you some straight answers as a car inspector will find most problems so this question gives you an impression of how open the owner is about the condition of the car.
7. Are there any rips/tears or stains in the seats, any cracks in the dashboard, been a smokers car, or transported any pets?
Unseen odors from pets or smoking can put off buyers straight away. However, if you are prepared to overlook such odors and have the interior thoroughly cleaned, then you could get yourself a bargain as it reduces their target market. Professional car cleaners can offer a service to do this, or you could look online for homemade remedies. You can cover torn seats with seat covers, but getting them fixed by an upholsterer is better in the long run as the rips will only get worse over time. Cracked dashboards can be a costly expense, so get quotes on any work beforehand so you can factor any extra costs into your budget. This may work in your favor to striking a deal.
8. Do you have the car title?
Knowing whether the vehicle is owned outright or tied up in a bank loan, you need to know if any existing finance is due on the car as any leftover finance will be transferred to the new buyer. This will affect what you do next as you will be getting into a loan with a bank, so you need to know how much is outstanding and research the banks interest rates.
9. Are there any unresolved recalls on the vehicle?
Often a new vehicle doesn’t show signs of any common problems until a couple of years down the track when things pop up as issues that need resolving – such as faulty airbags or a brake-shift interlock problem for example. It’s as easy as asking for the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) Number so you can check for yourself over at https://www.nhtsa.gov/recalls. If any recall problems have been fixed, then the owner should supply you with the receipts for work done.
10. Is it possible to organize a video walk-around?
Video walk-arounds are becoming more common in listings and if there isn’t one, then you could ask if they are able to do this.
Take note that there is usually a limit to the word or character count in a message. Autotrader for example only allows a maximum of 250 characters. So only ask your Top 3 concerns to get the ball rolling, and then you can carry on the conversation once the seller has replied. If there’s no description, then simply ask for more information and photos about the vehicle.
Take this 2005 Mini Cooper that’s for sale. You can see the seller has provided a decent amount of information already ticking off most of the questions above, along with a range of clear photos including the VIN number and close-ups of the small dings which can probably be knocked out which is great. You can assume already that the owner has the car title as it is a one owner car since new. So you can do a check on the VIN number to see if there are any recalls in place, and if there are, then you can ask if they have been done like in the example shown.
Once you have all this information, most of your questions have been answered before you even have to leave the house and organize a time to see and test-drive the car. Any questions after this will arise when you take the car out for a spin such as:-
‘I’d like to purchase the car on the condition that it passes a professional mechanics inspection. Is this okay with you?’, and…
‘Would you take (whatever price you think is fair) for the car?’ and list your reasons for this price.
Don’t offer a low-ball amount without evidence to back it up like repairs needed. I once got a great bargain on a Fiat 500 because once of the common problems they have is a raised dashboard where the airbag had pushed it up (apparently not a big issue and isn’t a recall according to Fiat) which would cost between $1,360 and $2,000 to fix. Armed with this knowledge I got an extra $2,000 off the car and managed to sell the car a few months down the track for a profit of $1,000.