Everything You Need to Know


Buying a vehicle can be a big investment and a long-term commitment. Before you sign the paperwork and get the keys, it’s important to ask the dealer all the necessary questions.

Learning as much as possible about the vehicle and the terms of sale will help you make the most informed decision. Here are some of the questions you might want to ask the dealer.

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What is the MSRP?

For most people, price is a driving factor in choosing which car to buy. If you see a model you like, ask the dealer what the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), also called the sticker price, is.

The MSRP is the selling price of the vehicle, and it reflects the trim level, entertainment systems, safety features and more. By asking for the MSRP up front, you can quickly decide whether or not the car is a realistic choice.

What other fees are included in the sale price?

Many car buyers do not realize that the MSRP of the vehicle is not the final price. When you see the final contract, you’ll see additional fees tacked on, such as a documentation fee, dealer preparation fee, and sales tax.

To avoid sticker shock, ask the dealer in advance what other fees you will have to pay if you buy the vehicle.

Are there guarantees?

Most new cars have a warranty included in the purchase price of your vehicle. This is called a manufacturer’s warranty or factory warranty. The factory warranty sometimes includes a bumper-to-bumper warranty and a power source warranty.

These plans cover the most important parts and systems in your vehicle, such as the engine, steering system and transmission, which can save you money on repairs if something goes wrong. However, these warranties are usually limited, either to a certain number of years or miles.

What is the car’s safety rating?

Most new cars have the latest safety features and technology, such as lane departure warnings and forward collision detection. However, it is a good idea to ask the dealer to review the car’s safety features and increase the car’s safety rating.

Organizations such as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) publish crash test ratings for many vehicle makes and models. Review the scores for the cars you are interested in and avoid models with poor ratings.

How many miles does the vehicle have?

When looking at a used car, it is important to find out how many miles the car has on it. This will affect everything from the price to the remaining life of the vehicle.

Cars with high mileage have already lost a significant amount of value, meaning the cost will be lower. However, this also means that you may have to spend more on maintenance or repairs.

Is the car certified pre-owned (CPO)?

Certified used cars are lightly used vehicles that have been serviced by the dealer. Often CPO cars have recently come off a lease. CPO cars are a few years old, usually with less than 50,000 miles, but they sell for much less than brand new models.

One of the benefits of a CPO vehicle is that most come with a warranty, such as a powertrain warranty or bumper-to-bumper warranty. Ask the dealer what warranties the vehicle comes with, and what limitations there are in terms of years or miles.

Does the car have aftermarket parts?

When buying a used car, it’s a good idea to ask the seller about aftermarket parts that the previous owner may have installed.

For example, check if the car has a new sound system, tires, rims, roof rack or suspension components that were not originally included with the vehicle.

Was this car in an accident?

Another very important question to ask when buying a used vehicle, whether from a dealer or a private seller, is whether the car has been in an accident.

While an accident isn’t always a deal breaker, it’s best to avoid buying a car that has sustained extensive damage, including frame damage, in a crash.

What incentives or rebates do you offer?

It is common for car dealers to offer incentives or rebates. These limited time offers can sweeten the deal and potentially help you save money.

For example, many dealers offer 0% APR financing on certain models, as well as $0 down lease deals. You might consider calling a few dealers in the area to see which one has the best deals at the moment.

Do you offer financing?

Almost all major car brands offer in-house financing through the dealer. The dealership’s finance team will help you apply and match loan offers. If you choose one of the merchant’s partner lenders, the loan funds are sent directly to the merchant.

You may not get the lowest interest rate if you choose dealer financing, but it’s generally a much easier process. If the dealer does not offer in-house financing, you will need to secure a loan from a third-party company, such as your bank, and transfer the funds to the seller.

where did you get the car

It can be helpful to ask the dealer where they got the car you’re looking at, especially if it’s a rare model or used car.

Try to find out if they got the car as a trade-in, as a loaner car from another dealer, or bought it at auction. This can give you a better idea of ​​the vehicle’s history and use.

Can you provide a Carfax report?

Whether you’re buying a new or used car, always ask the dealer for a copy of the Carfax report. This report contains the most important information about the vehicle’s history, the number of owners, liens, accidents, damage and other things that may not be advertised by the dealer.

Some Carfax reports also show detailed information about the car’s service history. It can be beneficial to know how well the vehicle was maintained by the previous owner, and if any major repairs were done, such as replacing the transmission.

Has the car been serviced recently?

Find out if the car has been serviced recently. Cars that have been sitting on the lot for a long period of time may not be in the best condition, even if they are brand new. Ask the dealer when their mechanics last looked at the car, and what services were done.

Ask for a copy of any service records to be included with the car when you buy it. If the car is overdue for an oil change, new brakes, new tires, or something else in the recommended service schedule, see if the dealer will do that work before you take it home.

Do you allow extended test drives?

You want to make sure you are comfortable with the vehicle before you agree to buy it. Ask the dealer if you are taking the car for a long test drive or keeping it overnight. Some traders, such as CarMaxoffers a 24-hour test drive for anyone who wants extra time with the vehicle.

Can I trade in my current vehicle?

If you want to replace your old car with a new one, ask the dealer if they accept trade-ins (most do). When you trade in your vehicle, the dealer will make you an offer based on the fair market value and apply that amount to the purchase of your new vehicle.

Are you open to negotiating on price?

It is never a bad idea to ask the dealer or seller if they are willing to negotiate on the price of the car. Politely ask if there is any wiggle room in the price and be ready with some reasons to back up your offer.

Also consider getting offers from a few other dealers in the area, and take those offers to your preferred dealer to use as leverage.

Head shot by Elizabeth Rivelli

Finance & Insurance Editor

Elizabeth Rivelli is a freelance writer with over three years of experience covering personal finance and insurance. She has extensive knowledge of various lines of insurance, including auto insurance and property insurance. Her byline has appeared in dozens of online finance publications, such as The Balance, Investopedia, Reviews.com, Forbes and Bankrate.