Don’t Buy a Lemon — Ask the Used Car Dealer These Questions

Used cars come with baggage from their previous owners. A used car might need a total engine rebuild or it might need nothing more than a new set of tires. Before you drive a used car off the lot, make sure you know exactly what happened in its history, what’s been done to fix any issues and how protected you’ll be from future problems.

We spoke to auto experts about the questions you should ask the dealer before buying a used car so that you don’t make any car-buying mistakes and end up with a lemon.

What To Do Before You Go To the Dealer

Before you even set foot in the dealership, it’s important to do some research first.

“As consumers, the more time you can spend researching before you get there, the more comfortable you are making choices and sticking to principles that you’ve laid out,” said Alain Nana-Sinkam, vice president of strategic initiatives at TrueCar. “Figure out what your game plan is, what your budget is and your criteria, so that when you go out, you can be more measured in the way that you approach things.”

Once you have a good idea of what you want and what a reasonable price is, it’s time to go to the dealer to get your specific questions answered. Here’s what you need to ask.

What’s the Vehicle History?

Before you buy a used car, you should know its history. And a dealer should be willing to provide reports on the used cars they’re selling.

“CARFAX and AutoCheck are two of the major ones,” said Nana-Sinkam. “Those vehicle history reports are going to tell you whether a car has been in a major accident, if it has flood damage, hail damage, if it’s been totaled and put back together, [or] if it used to be a taxi. Things that would be critical to understand, not necessarily to completely disqualify it, but things that you need to know to determine if you want to own this car and what you want to pay for it.”

Does It Have a Branded Title?

Before you settle on a used set of wheels, check its title. If the title is branded, you’ll want to get more information.

“A branded title means that a car was totaled and then put back together,” said Nana-Sinkam. “With that type of vehicle, you need to be mindful of if the weld was well done. That might give you pause.”

This shouldn’t necessarily disqualify a car, but it’s something you should definitely take note of.

What Do You Know About the Items Noted in the Vehicle History?

Any insight the dealer can provide into the items noted in the car’s history report can help you make a more informed decision about the purchase. However, the dealer might not have all the answers.

“In some cases, they won’t know if they weren’t involved [with] the vehicle in its previous lives when those things took place,” said Nana-Sinkam.

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