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Top 10 Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Car

As one of the largest financial commitments you’ll make, buying a car, SUV or truck can also be one of the most stressful situations any consumer can go through. However, with a bit of preparation and homework, the trip to a used car dealership can yield a great deal on a car you love.


For car buyers who prefer to go the pre-owned route, here are 10 questions you’ll want to ask your used car salesperson to make sure you walk away with not only the vehicle of your dreams, but also one that won’t become a nightmare down the road. 


  1. How long can I take the used vehicle for a test drive? 

    Before you start talking price with the dealer, make sure the used vehicle you are considering meets your needs by taking it for a proper test drive. Our KBB.ca “How to Test Drive a New Car” article can also be applied if you are looking for a used vehicle.  


  1. Does the dealer have any demos for sale? 

    If you are looking for a used vehicle that comes with the benefits of a new car, a dealer demonstrator (or “demo”) may be an option. A demo is a new vehicle used for test drives at the dealership. Most new car dealers re-sell their demos, most with only a few hundred or thousand kilometres on them. In addition to the appropriate depreciation costs taken off the vehicle’s price, most dealers will start the new vehicle warranty upon the purchase of your used car. 


  1. Where did the used vehicle come from? 

    Used vehicles can come from a variety of sources:  
  • directly from new car dealer trade-ins or demos (see above);  

  • from auctions, either wholesale, like Cox Automotive Canada’s Manheim auctions, or within a dealer franchise network;  

  • from rental car fleets;  

  • from other new or used car dealers; 

  • and private sellers. 

So, whether the used car you are interested in is sitting on a new franchise dealer lot or in an exclusively used car dealership, knowing where the vehicle came from is key to obtaining an accurate vehicle history. 


  1. Will the dealer supply a vehicle history report for the used vehicle?  

    Beyond any available maintenance history the dealer should be able to provide, it’s also a good idea to get a third-party vehicle history report paid for by the dealer. Depending on the report, buyers can find out if there are any unfixed safety recalls, money owed on the vehicle (i.e. a lien), or accident history on the vehicle they are considering. Many used car dealers advertise these reports as a way to attract buyers. And if the dealer you are working with balks, definitely walk off the lot. Note: Even if you get a vehicle history report, check to see that the vehicle identification number (VIN) of the car you are interested in matches that on the report. 


  1. Has the dealer done any service on the used vehicle? 

    Some used cars can sit for weeks and months on a dealer lot. So, regardless of the service history of the used vehicle you are considering, the current dealer may have had to do some repairs or scheduled maintenance since the car or truck originally arrived in their hands. This is important information to get, as any recent work done on your vehicle means fewer costs to you in the future. 


  1. If you are considering a Certified Pre-Owned used vehicle, can you get a hold of the inspection?

    Buying a Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) used vehicle has become very popular. Usually, the cars come from the same franchise dealer that you are shopping at. And many are low-mileage lease returns that have been maintained and inspected at the dealer and offer a new-car-like warranty. Even so, ask for the CPO inspection notes so you can see exactly the mechanical condition and future service needs of the used vehicle you are looking at. 


  1. Does the dealer offer in-house financing? 

    While most new car franchise dealers offer manufacturer-backed financing, many used car dealers don’t have that type of service. If they do have in-house financing, get as much detail as you can. You may get a better deal by simply going back to your financial institution or bank for a traditional car loan. 


  1. Will the dealer offer a discount if you buy the used vehicle with cash? 

    While dealers make money off the finance products they sell, most still prefer a cash purchase. So ask what the discounted price of the car would be if you skipped the traditional financing route and bought the vehicle in cash. 


  1. Will your dealer take your existing car as a trade-in? 

    If you currently own a vehicle and want to get rid of it, ask your dealer if they’ll take it as a trade-in. Not only does this help pay for your potential new-to-you car, but it also saves you the hassle of trying to sell your existing vehicle on your own. It will be easier, and you’ll get a better price if your trade-in is similar to the types of vehicles the dealer currently stocks. Note: For more information on trade-ins, check out KBB.ca’s “10 Steps for Selling Your Car”. 


  1. Are there any new parts, accessories or equipment that will be included on the used vehicle? 

    This is the opportunity to add a cherry on top of your deal. Once you think you have a final price that you are happy with, ask if the dealer will throw in a new set of tires, a set of winter tires and rims, all-season floor mats, or a trunk or cargo bay liner. Like all of these questions, it doesn’t hurt to ask. 

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