Couple asking questions at the dealership

17 questions you should ask when buying a used car

If you’re in the market for a new car but want to save some money, buying used could be the way to go. However, this isn’t something to be entered into lightly.

Even a used car is a considerable expense. You’ll want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth with your next purchase.

Whether you’re buying from a dealership, an independent garage, website or a private seller, it’s worth taking the time to learn as much as possible about the car before you part with your cash. After all, you don’t want your savvy saving to turn out to be a dodgy deal.

There’s a lot to think about before buying a used car, from its history and condition to all the financial and legal aspects. To make things easier, we’ve put together a helpful guide breaking down all these considerations.

Without further ado, here’s our list of 17 key questions you should ask when buying a used car:

Get a free valuation

Vehicle history

  • Has it had a basic vehicle history check?

    Car dealers should run a basic vehicle history check on any used car they intend to sell.

    A car history check will flag up whether the vehicle has ever been stolen or written off – and whether it has outstanding finance. If any of these apply, the car can’t be legally sold.

    If the dealer hasn’t performed a history check, you can request one or pay for it yourself. They’re relatively cheap - and worth it for your peace of mind if you’re keen on the car.

  • Can I see the full service history?

    A complete service history will document a car’s regular servicing and maintenance schedule since it was new. It will also include details of any part replacements and significant repairs carried out.

    Seeing a car’s full service history will give you a clearer picture of how well it has been maintained and cared for throughout its life – and highlight any potential future issues, so you can make an informed decision.

    You should always ask a seller or dealer to show you the service history. In some cases, the service history will be incomplete, but even a partial service history can be helpful. If important information about a car is missing, you may be able to piece together its missing service history.

  • How many owners has it had?

    Asking the seller how many owners a car has had can give you an insight into how much wear and tear the vehicle has been through. You can also find out the answer to this question by entering the vehicle’s reg number into our free car check tool.

    Whilst ‘one careful owner’ is the dream for used car buyers, this is unfortunately not often the reality. In the used car world, motors with more previous owners are usually a little more worn.

    On the positive side, if price is your main concern, you might be able to save some cash by opting for a model that’s changed hands a few times.

  • What’s the mileage?

    Knowing the mileage of a used car can give you a good idea of its overall condition.

    Cars with higher mileages are likely to have suffered more wear and tear than those with fewer miles on the clock. However, it’s not quite that simple. A car that’s done 40,000 miles and has been carefully looked after should be a better choice than a poorly maintained motor with a mileage of just 20,000.

    It’s also worth asking where the car was driven, as this can make a difference. Motorway miles generally put less strain on a car than city miles. The constant stopping and starting on urban roads puts more wear on the brakes, transmission and tyres.

  • Has it been in an accident?

    It’s always a good idea to ask the seller whether the car has been in an accident or exposed to flooding, as any previous damage will have an impact on the car’s value and condition.

    If the seller is reputable, they will answer honestly. If you have any doubts or suspect they’re not telling you everything, you can find out the truth by utilising a category check service.

    • Signs that a car has been in an accident include:

    • Parts that don’t match or fit together properly.

    • Colour differences between panels.

    The service history should also give you information about any repairs that have been carried out.

The car’s current condition

  • Are there any mechanical or electrical problems?

    Mechanical and electrical faults start out as small issues that could present bigger problems further down the road.

    Make sure you check everything inside the car, including the windscreen wipers, windows, entertainment systems, lights and air conditioning. If anything doesn’t work properly, raise this with the seller.

    Don’t forget to check everything under the bonnet. Get down on the ground and have a good look under the chassis; take a torch and look for any leaks. Dashboard warning lights or unusual sounds are dead giveaways.

    It’s also a good idea to have a qualified, independent mechanic check the car before you buy, just to make sure it has a clean bill of health.

  • How are the tyres?

    Tyres are important, not just from a performance and handling standpoint, but also from a legal one. They must have a minimum tread of 1.6mm to be road legal. So, if they have close to or less than that, they’ll need replacing.

    Check that the tyre pressures match, too. Ideally, all four should be the same, but at the very least, the two front tyres and the two at the rear should be about the same as each other.

  • Do the brakes work properly?

    You can ask the seller whether the brakes work properly - and when they were last tested or replaced. However, you won’t truly know how well the brakes work until you’ve taken a test drive.

    Telltale signs that your brakes are not up to scratch include:

    • Vibrations in the steering wheel and brake pedal.

    • Grinding or squealing sounds.

    • Too little resistance from the brake pedal.

    • The car failing to come to a clean stop.

    Don’t forget to check the handbrake, too.

  • When is the next scheduled service?

    Cars should have a full service once a year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. Asking the seller when the next service is due is a good way to find out if there are any major issues that may need to be addressed on top of all the regular checks.

    For example, does the cambelt, clutch or exhaust need replacing soon? If so, you could end up being hit with a hefty bill shortly after shelling out for your car. If this is the case, you should have more scope to negotiate with the seller.

  • Does the car need any interior or exterior repairs?

    Many cosmetic issues will be obvious at first sight: a small scratch on the door, a dent in the bumper, or a stain on the seat cover - but others might be hidden.

    Any damage is going to reduce the value of the car, so it’s useful to know about every little flaw, no matter how small, as this will strengthen your negotiating position.

    Use your other senses too. Does the car have a strong smell of stale smoke or fast food? These lingering odours could be difficult to get rid of.

Test driving and inspection

  • Can I take it for a test drive?

    You should always test drive a car before buying it. If the seller seems reluctant or flat-out refuses, that’s an immediate red flag - and your sign to walk away.

    After all, how can you get a feel for how the car drives without trying it out? If you are allowed to take it out for a spin (most sellers will be happy to let you do this), here are a few questions to ask yourself:

    • Are there any unexpected sounds?

    • Do the steering, brakes and acceleration respond how you expected them to?

    • Is the drive smooth - or does the car shudder and vibrate?

    • Are the dashboard controls intuitive?

    • Is the car comfortable for you?

    Try to incorporate a variety of road types and driving environments into the test drive, as this will give you the full picture of how the car handles and performs.

  • Can I get my mechanic to check it over?

    Whilst you can certainly do some checks yourself, it’s always a good idea to get an independent mechanic to inspect the car fully. They’ll be able to give you an impartial assessment, either confirming that the car is in good condition or flagging up any potential issues.

    Either way, these extra checks will be worth the cost. If the seller doesn’t seem keen for you to hire an outside mechanic, this could be a sign that something is wrong.

Documentation and legalities

  • Can you provide all the paperwork?

    At the very least, the seller should be able to give you the V5C logbook, the service history and MOT certificates.

    The V5C logbook includes key details about the ‘registered keeper’ and the car itself, so you can check that there are no discrepancies. This document also plays a crucial role in the process of transferring car ownership.

    An MOT certificate proves that the car is legally roadworthy. Make sure you check how much MOT cover is left. These tests are required once a year, so if the current one is about to run out, it’s worth asking the seller to book another test.

    Other useful documents include proof of purchase, the warranty paperwork and the owner’s manual.

Financial aspects

  • How did you set the price?

    Before you view the car, do your homework. Compare prices from as many different sellers as you can so that you have a clear indication of what it’s worth. You can also enter the reg number into our free car valuation tool to find out its market value in under 30 seconds.

    Ask the seller how they arrived at the price. If it’s clear that they’ve done the same amount of research, it’s likely that they’re offering the car at an average and reasonable price.

    However, if they’re starting at the top of the range, there could be some wiggle room for you. Remember to be polite at all times; aggressive haggling is never welcome and is unlikely to help your cause.

  • What are the insurance costs?

    This is another area where you’ll have to do some research. Get a few quotes beforehand to get an idea of how much insurance is likely to cost - and factor this into your overall budget.

    You can also ask the seller about the insurance. While they may not know, or be willing to share the information, it’s always worth asking.

  • Can I get financing?

    A used car is a significant outlay, so it’s worth shopping around to find the best car financing deals. Many dealers offer financing, but if you’re buying from an independent garage or a private seller, you’ll have to find your own loan.

    Make sure you have as much information about the car as possible before you start looking, as some car loan terms vary based on the mileage, age and condition of the car.

Seller’s motivation and transparency

  • Why are you selling?

    Asking this question straight off can help to uncover information about the car - and the seller themselves. If they’re transparent about their motives, you can probably trust that they’re being honest about everything else too.

    Conversely, if they seem evasive about such a straightforward question, this could indicate that they’re being deceptive about other aspects of the sale.

Good luck with your used car purchase!

We hope you found our guide helpful and are now confident about what to ask when buying a used car. Remember, try get as much information as you can, don’t be afraid to haggle – and if something doesn’t seem right, walk away from the sale.

Planning to sell your car before making the switch? Selling to webuyanycar is simple and hassle free! Here’s how it works:

  • Enter your reg number into our free car valuation tool to get a quote in under 30 seconds.

  • Book your appointment at any of our 500+ UK branches.

  • Drive to your chosen branch. Happy to sell? We’ll help with the paperwork and send the money to your bank.