CCC014: 10 Questions to Qualify a Used Car By Phone

In this episode of the Cash Car Convert Podcast I will cover 10 questions you should ask before going to see a used car. To quote the old Yellow Pages commercial, “Let your fingers do the walking.” Do spend your time or gas needlessly. Prequalify each car before you drive to inspect.

10 Questions to qualify both a used car and the private seller:

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1. How long have you owned this car?

If the seller hasn’t owned the car for a long period of time there is typically one of two reasons.

The first is the seller is either a dealer or a car flipper. Both of these are someone who purchased the car solely with the intention to resell. There is nothing wrong with this, but this is not the kind of seller you should be looking for.

Second, this could be someone who purchased a car and discovered problems and wants to pass them on to you. You don’t want them. Move on.

Regardless of the reason, if the owner hasn’t owned the car for a couple of years minimum, keep looking.

2. Why are you selling this car?

This question is a great test of the seller. Does the seller have a valid reason for selling? Did the seller get a new car? Did the seller want a different type of car, like maybe a truck or SUV?

Does the seller hesitate? Does the seller seem evasive?

If you have any feeling  of deception, go to the next car on your list.

3. Has this car been in any accidents?

This is information you can get from a car history report, like CARFAX, which I will discuss below.

The reason for asking is twofold.

One is to see how the seller responds to the question. Once again is the seller evasive or hesitant to answer? If so, there is likely a problem.

Two, not all accidents will show up on a car history report. Something so minor as a parking lot accident may not show up. A very minor accident doesn’t stop me from making a trip to look at the car as long as it has been repaired or is very minor.

I would expect a price reduction for a car that has been in an accident versus a car that is more pristine.

4. Has this car had any major issues with the motor or transmission?

The motor and transmission are two of a car’s most expensive components. If a car has had a major issue with the motor or transmission, I view it in two ways.

It can be the seller or previous owner didn’t maintain the car and therefore it has a major problem. It could also be that the manufacturer built the engine or transmission with some defect that got past quality control.

Either way, you will want to pass on a car that has had a major motor or transmission overhaul.

5. Do all the electrical switches and electrical components work?

This is an important question. Electrical issues can become the kind of problems that haunt a car, but can be tough to find. This can make some of them very expensive.

If a car does have an electrical issue ask the seller why it hasn’t been repaired. As with the questions above listen to the answer closely to help you make a decision on the car. Read the seller.

Intermittent light failures, electrical switch malfunctions, and gauge errors can be most unsettling. Worse, these repairs can be quite expensive to diagnose and repair.

I would stay away from most any car that has an electrical problem.

6. Does this car leak any fluids?

A used car leaking any kind of fluids is problematic for you, because you are looking for a car that has been meticulously maintained and this will not be the case for a car leaking oil, break fluid, power steering fluid, or transmission fluid.

If the seller hasn’t repaired the leak what else hasn’t he or she repaired?

Move on.

7. What is the condition of the tires and what is the brand, if known?

Tires are a major expense item on a car with the cost ranging from around $300 to $800 for a car. Tires with too much wear can be hazardous and put you and others in danger.

For this reason, you are looking for an answer indicating the tires are in good shape with plenty of tread. If the tire brand is a quality brand like Michelin or Goodyear it is a plus.

Poor tires are a red flag, but don’t always disqualify a car. The price would have to make up for both the cost of the tires and the hassle factor of getting them replaced and all other aspects of the car would have to be favorable.

8. Are there any defects on the car not evident in the photos?

This question helps to find potential problems with the car that don’t show up in photos. It may or may not have to do with the seller trying to hide a known fault.

I have gone to inspect cars only to find the pictures didn’t show all the imperfections. Things like exterior paint scratches, small dents, or small tears or wear in the interior.

Determine from the answers provided if you are still interested in this used car.

9. Are there any problems you are aware of I didn’t think to ask about? 

I like this question, because I’ve  often found if you don’t ask specifically about an issue it won’t be brought up. This question will give honest people an opportunity to disclose any known issues or problems and most of them will.

This is another answer where you will want to pay particular attention to the way the seller answers. It is much the same as in questions above. Does the seller hesitate or seem evasive in their response?

If so, there is a red flag!

10. Do you have maintenance and repair records?

If the seller has a stack of receipts from years of maintenance and repairs, he or she will be glad to share the information with you. This will come across in their response to this question also. You will hear it in their voice. Many who have the records will literally start bragging on all the records they have retained. This is a very good sign!

If he or she doesn’t have the records, you can still pursue the car, but you are buying blind. I would recommend you take a car to a mechanic in the buying process anyway, but it will be even more important if you don’t have the car’s records to review.

I know these questions have saved me from making car buying mistakes.

My hope is that the 10 questions provided in this episode will give you more confidence about whether a specific used car is worth further inspection or not.

Good used cars come on the market everyday. So, it is wise to show patience and take your time in making a decision.

You likely won’t regret a deal you didn’t do, but may well live to regret for a long time the wrong deal you did do.




Interview Chris Basso of CARFAX:

My New Car Mistake:

Think Before You Make That Trade:

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