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Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Car

Getting a good deal on a used car includes more than just the price – you need to know exactly what you’re paying for. Buying a car is a major financial decision, and it’s important you have all the information possible to ensure that decision is an informed one.

Here are the questions to ask before buying a used vehicle:

Why is the car for sale?

A recent study shows that 64% of Canadian used car buyers need a new car, and 36% want one. It’s important to know which category your seller (or, more importantly, their vehicle) falls under as this can provide some clues as to whether it’s the right car for you. Let’s say the seller is expecting twins and needs to upgrade to a larger vehicle. In this case, their used sedan could be the perfect starter car for you. But, say the owner wants to get a new car because the maintenance costs were becoming unmanageable. If this is the case, you may want to think twice about the vehicle.

What is its history?

This is a big one. You will have no idea of a vehicle’s condition or what it has in store for the future without knowing what’s happened in its past. Does it have any unfixed safety recalls? How many owners has it had? Has it ever been registered in the U.S.? Has the vehicle been in an accident? If so, was it properly repaired? While a vehicle with accident history can still be a great buy (and could be a great opportunity to get into a more premium model than you could have afforded otherwise), it’s important to know about this history to ensure that it’s been properly repaired and the vehicle is safe to drive. All this information is available in a CARFAX Vehicle History Report – make sure you ask for one before you consider signing the deal.

What condition is the vehicle in?

A vehicle’s current condition has a lot to do with how well it’s been maintained. Did it have regular oil changes? Has the alignment been checked regularly? The cost of vehicle ownership depends on far more than just the purchase price, and this information will help you gauge future maintenance costs and get an idea of how well the car has been cared for.  

You can also check the CARFAX report for a Top Condition™ badge (shown below). Vehicles with these badges have been registered as either Certified Pre-Owned or Certified Previous Daily Rental, are free of unfixed safety recalls, have an active vehicle history report and are free of damage over $5000.

How was it driven?

A vehicle’s odometer reading can give some clues about its condition, but there is information you should know beyond just the number of kilometres it’s covered. Were most of those kilometres racked up on the highway, or were they all from stop-and-go city driving? This will make a difference in how much wear-and-tear these kilometres have had on the vehicle – so ask the question to help with your information gathering.

Can I take it for a test drive?

If the answer is no, walk away. The test drive is your chance to get into the vehicle and test out all the little things yourself. Are the seats comfortable? Will your golf clubs fit in the trunk? Do you like the way it drives? Is the steering loose or tight? Does it make any funny noises that could indicate mechanical problems? These are just a start. Do your homework before the test drive so you’re prepared to assess everything that’s important.

Can I take it for a pre-purchase inspection?

Again, if the answer is no, walk away – the buyer should have no problem allowing you to have the vehicle inspected. A pre-purchase inspection is performed by a licensed mechanic or auto technician who will give the vehicle a thorough inspection to determine its cosmetic, mechanical and safety condition. The mechanic will pinpoint any existing conditions and highlight potential issues that could arise in the future, and will investigate to make sure any previous damage has been properly repaired. By learning more about what’s happening under the hood, you could end up more confident that you’re making a great purchase, decide that it’s not the right ride for you, or uncover some details to leverage in your price negotiations. You can find more details about pre-purchase inspections, how to get one and what you should expect to pay, here.

Does it come with any extras?

Lots of things are easy to forget when you’re evaluating whether a car is right for you. Does it have two key fobs? Is there a remote starter? Does it come with winter tires? How about a spare tire, a jack, jumper cables or an emergency kit? These are all things the seller might be willing to throw in to sweeten the deal – it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Is there any warranty left?

Depending on the age of the vehicle, how it was purchased and whether it has been certified by the manufacturer, it may or may not come with a warranty. This is something to discuss with the seller – and you’ll want documentation of any extended, after-market warranty or remaining manufacturer warranty so you can confirm that it still applies.

This is a lot to remember – do yourself a favour and make notes of this information. It will help you weigh the pros and cons of every vehicle you evaluate and make an informed decision around which vehicle to choose.

For more comprehensive information about the used car buying process, check out CARFAX’s free Used Car Buying Guide.


Chatter from the UsedHQ. We're the number one Canadian online classifieds, passionate about keeping items out of landfills, preserving unique curiosities, crafting, upcycling, anything vintage and SAVING MONEY!

3 Responses to “Questions to Ask Before Buying a Used Car”


One other important question to ask is if the vehicle was originally purchased locally. This is a much broader question than just asking if it was ever US registered. You deserve to know if the vehicle had a life in the salt-ridden east of Canada before a decision is made.


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Some really superb info, Glad I discovered this.



    Glad you enjoyed the article! Hope you have a great rest of your day!

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