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The key to driving off the car lot pleased with your purchase is to learn the right questions to ask. To advocate for your wallet and needs, be prepared with tough questions — and be ready to walk away if you can’t get satisfying answers. Otherwise, you may not get the best deal when buying a vehicle.
Questions to ask all car dealers
Whether 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.
If you are able, ask if you can take it to your garage or parking space to see if it fits right. Some dealerships may even allow you to keep the vehicle overnight to test it through your daily schedule.
What warranty is on the vehicle, if any?
Warranties can cover certain damage that the vehicle incurs and wear and tear. For new cars, manufacturer warranties cover the bigger issues — though you will still need to pay for regular maintenance.
Some newer used cars may still have their original warranty or a new warranty if you choose to buy certified pre-owned (CPO). If there is a warranty present, you could save quite a bit on future repairs, depending on how extensive it is.
And even if there’s not, you could see if an extended warranty or gap insurance are options. However, these are expensive — and frequently not necessary — so consider your needs carefully before asking a salesperson about it.
What additional fees come with purchasing this vehicle?
No matter what vehicle you decide to purchase, you should be prepared to pay additional fees. Your state may have title transfer fees and other costs that are non-negotiable. The dealership may also have some set fees that you will need to pay.
And although it can be tempting to just finance those fees — and sales tax — into your loan, avoid it if possible. After all, you should avoid borrowing more than the car is worth. Fees and taxes should be paid in cash if you’re able.
Questions to ask when buying a new car
The new car market continues to thrive, and prices remain at an all-time high. So, 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 to ensure you get the best deal. 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 from outside lenders. It’s likely that if you have good to excellent credit, you will be able to find a better deal through a bank, credit union or online lender. Be sure to compare any prequalification offers to what the dealer offers.
Are there any available rebates or incentives?
In some cases, you will qualify for a rebate or incentive when you purchase a new vehicle. This perk generally reduces your purchase price after taxes.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?
The documentation fee or “doc fee” is charged by dealers to cover the cost of completing the sales contract on your behalf. Unlike some fees that come with a new vehicle purchase, the documentation fee cannot be negotiated. Some states set a limit on how much dealers can charge. But if you live in a state that doesn’t, it can cost you up to $600, according to Edmunds.
Questions to ask when buying a used car
Despite the price hikes on used vehicles due to inventory shortages, buying used does come with its perks. Still, 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 a car 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.
You should also ask how the dealer acquired the vehicle. A trade-in may not have a full history attached, while a previous rental will have been regularly serviced — if driven harder than a privately owned car.
Could I have the vehicle inspected by my mechanic?
Asking for a used car inspection is a great final step in your questioning process but be sure to only ask if you know you want the vehicle pending the inspection results. It can help you figure out the dealer’s confidence in the vehicle and having a trusted set of eyes to 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 shopping around for the best deal on financing, it’s important to know what questions to ask before heading to the dealership.
Pull up to the dealership with a concrete plan and a list of the right questions to ask. You’ll also be equipped with the knowledge needed to make an informed decision, whether it’s signing on the dotted line or walking away to find a better deal elsewhere.