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Questions to ask when buying a car

Saleswoman in blue shirt at a car dealership holds a tablet while talking to a smiling couple.
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The key to driving off the car lot pleased with your vehicle purchase is to do some homework ahead of time and learn the right questions to ask. Buying a car can feel overwhelming with dealers who have their own ideas about pricing and motives for getting you to sign off on a deal. To feel confident and advocate for your wallet and needs, come prepared with the tough questions — and be ready to walk away if you can’t get satisfying answers.  

Questions to ask all car dealers   

No matter if you decide to buy new or used, there are three top general questions to ask the dealer before going in for a handshake.   

Can I test drive the car?  

You won’t truly know if a vehicle is a good fit unless you adjust the seat and get a feel for the handling capabilities. Pay special attention to how the brakes feel and if you can see the vehicle fitting all your needs and day-to-day routines.  

What warranty is on the vehicle, if any?  

Warranties can cover certain damage that the vehicle incurs and wear and tear. For new cars, and even some newer used cars, if there is still a manufacturer’s warranty present you could save quite a bit on future repairs, depending on how extensive it is.  

What are the additional fees that come with purchasing this vehicle?  

No matter what vehicle you decide to purchase you should be prepared to pay additional fees. This is dependent on the state you live in along with the dealership but knowing ahead of time can help you calculate that number into the sticker price you see.  

Questions to ask when buying a new car  

Even if you feel like a seasoned veteran when it comes to negotiation and car buying there are still a few key points to cover. Make sure the dealer can answer these questions before signing off on a new vehicle 

What are the available financing terms?  

Check for the best available rates for your credit history from outside lenders. It’s likely that if you have good to excellent credit, you will be able to find a better deal with a bank, credit union or online lender. Be sure to compare any prequalification offers to what the dealer might offer. 

Are there any available rebates or incentives?  

In most cases, you will qualify for some sort of rebate or incentive when you purchase a new vehicle. These range from deals during certain times of the year to those available for certain groups like veterans or students.  

How much is the documentation fee for this vehicle?  

Unlike some fees that come with a new vehicle purchase, the documentation fee cannot be negotiated. It can cost you up to $400 and — depending on your state — every dealership can set its own prices.  

Questions to ask when buying a used car 

Buying used does come with its perks, but it can be more of a risk if you don’t know the history of the vehicle. If you intend to buy used there are certain questions you can ask to ensure that you are getting a vehicle in good condition.  

Has this vehicle been in any accidents?  

Not all vehicle accidents can be found in a vehicle history report, so ask outright if your potential car has been involved in any accidents and how it was then repaired. Ask about how long ago the accident was, and if there have been any subsequent repairs related to it. 

How many owners has this vehicle had?  

Ideally, you want a used car that had one to two happy owners rather than one that was passed around to several drivers. A car with a long ownership history can be a major red flag that the vehicle has some outstanding issues.  

Could I have the vehicle inspected by my mechanic?  

This is a great final step in your questioning process, but be sure to only ask if you are certain you want the vehicle pending the inspection results. It can be a great way to figure out the dealer’s confidence in the vehicle and having a trusted set of eyes check the vehicle over can assure you that you’re getting what you pay for.  

The bottom line 

Aside from doing your research on the type of vehicle you want and your financing, it’s important to know what questions to ask ahead of time. Pull up to the dealership with a concrete plan and a full understanding of what points you need to hit in order to ensure you get the best deal available. 

Written by
Rebecca Betterton
Auto Loans Reporter
Rebecca Betterton is the auto loans reporter for Bankrate. She specializes in assisting readers in navigating the ins and outs of securely borrowing money to purchase a car.
Edited by
Auto loans editor