What questions should I ask when buying a used car?

Before buying a second-hand car, you should do your best to find out everything you can about the vehicle - a great place to start is by entering your registration plate in our free car check tool. Whether you are buying from a dealer or a private seller, they may not be very forthcoming with all the information you need, especially if it is regarding issues that could devalue the car. Asking questions could make you more aware of what you could be buying, including any faults, to put you in a better position to achieve the best deal possible.


30 second car valuation


Things to know before buying a car


Preparing yourself with the relevant industry information and the right questions to ask will boost your confidence when you’re trying to strike a deal with the seller. It will also put you in a better position to negotiate and reach the best price possible.

Before you visit the car, research the vehicle’s current market value and any extra features the car may have. Understanding how cars depreciate and how their values fluctuate throughout the year will provide you with a price range of what you could expect to pay to prevent being overcharged. Researching the car you wish to buy will also make you aware of what to expect from the car, which features it should have, how it should perform and what the typical running costs are.

Once you have the basic knowledge you can prepare your questions.


What to ask before buying a car


Asking questions is beneficial no matter where you choose to buy your next car. However, you don’t have the same legal protection when buying from a private seller as you do from a dealer, so ensuring you are fully aware of what you are buying is even more important in this instance. Follow our guide on what to ask before you purchase a vehicle and prevent yourself from buying the wrong car.

There are a few questions to ask to find out if the car can legally be sold. For example, is the seller the legal owner? Does the car have outstanding finance? And has the car been written off?

If you are buying from a private seller, the first question that should be answered is whether they are the legal owner and can legitimately sell the car. You can clarify whether they are the legal owner by checking their identification and making sure it matches the owner details on the documents. If they claim to be selling the car on behalf of someone else, then approach the purchase with caution. It could be possible that the car has been stolen.

If the car has outstanding finance then it cannot be legally sold as the seller does not yet fully own the vehicle. If you buy a car with outstanding finance, it could end up being repossessed for investigation.

If a car has been in an accident and is severely damaged it is likely to be written off. Depending on how bad the damage is will determine whether the car can ever be sold again. For example, if the car is registered as Category A, it is unsalvageable and must be crushed, and therefore, cannot be sold. Category B means the car cannot be sold as it is but can be stripped for spare parts. Category C and D cars can be repaired and put back on the road, but the potential buyer must be informed of its previous 'write off' status.

If you are buying a Category C or D car, then this must be reflected in the price, and you must check that the car has been repaired properly and is safe to drive. The seller should have sent off for a replacement V5C with an updated record stating the vehicle was previously written off and should make the repair work documents available to the buyer.

However, you don’t have to rely on the seller to tell you the truth and you could pay for a vehicle history check to find out whether a car is legal to sell.

To sell a car, all the legal documents must be available and up to date. This includes the logbook (also known as V5C), MOT certificate and service history. If the seller cannot produce the paperwork, it could be because the car is not legally theirs to sell.

The documents can also show whether the seller is a dealer posing as a private seller. If they have a green slip but no V5C then it is possible that the vehicle has recently been bought and the registration document has not arrived yet. If an owner is selling a car straight after a purchase, it could be an indication that they are a dealer. Also, if they do have the logbook but it has no yellow section, this could also mean they are a dealer. Some dealers pretend to be a private seller to avoid the Consumer Rights Act, and therefore, are selling the car illegally.

By asking the seller specific questions, you could put the seller on the spot and unearth additional information that they did not put in the original advertisement for the car. If they are attempting to deceive, this question could throw them off guard.

The amount of previous owners a car has had can affect its value. The more owners it has had, the more likely it will be an older car, have more miles on the clock and have been driven in different styles affecting the condition of the car. Therefore, this should be reflected in the resale price.

The mileage on a car can affect its value, therefore, it could be worth checking to see how many miles it has done and compare it to its age. The average annual miles in the UK is 12,000 and if the car appears to have driven more than this then it could be worth negotiating more off the resale price.

It is important to check whether the car has been clocked. Compare the miles on the dashboard to what it states on the last MOT certificate and work out if it is likely to have been altered.

It is also important to know how the car has been driven. Ask the seller what the car was generally used for, for example, did it drive short commutes, long-haul journeys or casual trips to the shops? The more a car has been driven, the more general wear and tear it will have suffered.

If the answer is yes, it implies that the car is roadworthy, has all the legal documents, and is in a satisfactory condition. If this isn’t the case and the seller lets you drive the vehicle, then they are in breach of contract.

Check to see if there are any obvious alterations to the bodywork. For example, look at the doors to see if the paintwork matches all the way around, check if the car sits squarely on the road and the doors and boot lid sit straight. If there appear to be any alterations to the car this does not necessarily mean the vehicle is unsafe but could affect the car’s value.

The seller must be honest about the description of the vehicle. It is worth making a note of any features it is described to have and the condition it is meant to be in so that you can check if this is true when you view the car.

It is inevitable that a used car will have been subject to wear and tear, so it is down to you, the buyer, to thoroughly check the vehicle and make sure you are happy with it. Things to check include the lights, doors, air con and if there is there a spare wheel, jack and other tools. Once you have bought the vehicle, you cannot receive a refund if you become unhappy with a feature that has suffered wear and tear.

If the vehicle is only a couple of years old it may still be under the manufacturer’s warranty, which should transfer to the new owner. If the car is older then it is possible that it is no longer under any warranty and a private seller isn’t obliged to sell it with one. However, the buyer should be made aware of this and it must be described as having no warranty.

A car without all of its original keys can lose value. It is worth checking against the vehicle’s documents how many keys it originally came with. If the keys the seller has does not match the paperwork, then you are in a position to haggle more money off the price.

It is advisable to test drive a car before buying it. This allows the buyer to get a feel for the car, see how it drives and provides a chance to discover any other faults that are not instantly recognisable. If the seller refuses a test drive, do not buy the car.


Once you have a full image of the car you could be buying and are ready to make the deal, you may want to sell your current car first. Enter the number plate, along with the information about the car’s mileage and condition to receive a calculation of how much your car is worth.

It is also worth noting, if you are the seller you will have to make yourself aware of the answers to these questions and make yourself available for the viewings. Or you can avoid the hassle and time wasting and sell your car to webuyanycar, the quick and easy car buying service for your convenience.


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