Unlike most people, I love shopping for a car. I love the “thrill of the kill” when I win the negotiations. What I’ve learned is that you will never win the game if you go in unprepared.
It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a new car or a used car you need to be prepared when walking into a dealership. It’s all business to them. They don’t care what kind of car you end up in as long as they sell you something and get their commission.
You need to be prepared with a list of questions. The well-informed consumer will always end up with the best deal.
Questions To Ask When Buying a Car
What is the car’s fuel efficiency?
This will be one of the biggest factors in the operating cost of the vehicle. Driving 12,000 miles per year, a difference of 2 MPG add and extra $200 per year to the operating cost.
Many don’t think about it, but the operating cost can vary wildly between different types of cars. A car with a high operating cost can cost you thousands over the years.
What is the estimated annual maintenance cost of the vehicle?
Some dealerships have access to the expected annual maintenance costs of the vehicles they sell. If you can get this information it is a useful data point to include when considering the financial implications of purchasing a car.
If the dealer can’t give you a dollar amount on the maintenance costs then ask to see the scheduled maintenance recommended by the manufacturer.
If the dealer comes back with a relatively high estimate on the cost of the annual maintenance don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage when you negotiate.
How long is the warranty? What does the warranty cover?
This one is a bit of a sore spot with me. My current vehicle, a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee, still had 1 year of the warranty left when I bought it.
The first issue I had, a broken window actuator (the window wouldn’t roll up) wasn’t covered by the warranty. $200 out of my pocket.
The second issue, warped rotors, didn’t show up until after the warranty expired. $500 out of my pocket.
When you buy a vehicle make sure you understand exactly what you are getting when they talk about a warranty.
Can I see the CarFax?
Any reputable dealer will give you the CarFax on a used car. You just have to ask for it.
If they don’t give it to you or they want you to pay for it. Get up and leave. You don’t want to do business with a dealership like that.
The CarFax will tell you things like
- If the car has had a salvaged or junked title
- If the car has ever been flooded
- Any accidents the car has been involved in
- Odometer readings
- The number of previous owners
- Accident indicators, such as airbag deployments
- State emissions inspection results
- Service records
- Vehicle use (taxi, rental, lease, etc.)
Can I see the dealership inspection report?
Before a dealer puts a used car on the lot it will perform a full inspection. Any reputable dealer will let you see the report from this inspection.
Small issues such as a minor fluid leak are common and nothing to worry about. But beware if you see any serious issues on the report.
Can I borrow the car for the night?
I love this question. This question has done more for me in the negotiation process than anything else.
Most dealerships will let you borrow a car for the night. However, most really don’t want to do it. For most people, buying a car is an emotional decision. Letting them take the car home for the night gives them time to really think about the decision.
Last time I was negotiating with a dealership (for my Jeep) I couldn’t get them to budge on the price. They wanted $11,250. I told them I wouldn’t go above $10,100.
Finally, I asked if I could have the car for the weekend to test it out and see if it was worth it to me. The sales guy went to talk to the sales manager. After about 10 minutes the sales manager came over and said they would come down to $10,100 if I would sign the papers today.
What features are included on this vehicle?
I had a friend that bought a car last year. She and her husband when to the dealership with a specific list of features in mind. One of the biggest ones was an in-dash GPS system.
They looked at a several cars and finally found one they liked. The sales guy told them it had everything on their list.
They went inside, did all the paperwork, etc. With all of that done, the dealership tells them it will be 2 weeks until they could pick up their car because it had to be shipped in from Kansas.
If you are looking for a specific feature, make sure the car you’re looking at actually has it. Don’t just take the sales person’s word for it.
What is the out the door amount?
There is a lot more to the cost of a vehicle than the price on the window. Most dealerships have financing fees, delivery fees, paperwork fees and all kinds of other fees they want to you pay.
When in the negotiation process make sure you ask what the out the door amount is. Don’t assume that all of the fees are included in the price you agree on. (Hint: They won’t be included in the price you agree on unless you explicitly negotiate it.)
The more prepared you are the better deal you get. In negotiations the person with the most information always wins.
Do you have any questions that you ask when buying a car? Tell me in the comments below!