Under The Hood

Buying A Car Online? 9 Questions To Ask The Seller First

1) Why are you selling the car? 

This is a natural way to start the conversation. As a bonus, the answers you get can sometimes reveal whether you have negotiating power. 

Here's some typical answers: 

I recently bought a new car 

This is good because it means there could be a burning hole in their pocket, which they are readily looking to close with the sale of their old vehicle. This gives you leverage in the sale. 

I'm moving soon, and will be using public transportation in the future. 

This is even better for you. Now they've really got to sell their car fast. 

I'm having kids. 

It's a turning point in the life of every two seat sports car owner. Use the situation to your advantage. 

Whatever the reason is, there should be one. Selling a car is a pain in the butt ( unless you sell with Swap Motors), and there should be a story to go along with the sale. 

2) How many people have owned this car? 

If the seller does not know the answer to this question, you should get a vehicle history report on the car before you proceed any further with the sale. In the vehicle history report in the title information section, you will see records of when a new title was issued. 

Often times, each new title indicates a new vehicle owner. This is not foolproof, as there are cases of duplicate titles being issued. In general, it's a pretty good baseline to go by. 

Ideally, you want to buy a car that has had 1 or 2 owners max. With older cars, this gets pretty tough to do. The reason you want to buy a car with few owners is because it's much easier to estimate the consistency of care and maintenance the car has received over its lifetime. The current owner may have taken good care of the vehicle and have documentation to prove it. But who's to say the last two owners did the same? 

Another thing to look for is the state in which the car was kept. In the example above, you can see that the vehicle spent most of its life in Georgia and Florida. Both of these states are warm year round, don't get snow and ice, and therefore don't have salt on the road wreaking havoc on their vehicles.

That's a good thing, and a luxury most used vehicles sold in the Midwest don't have! 

3) Has the car been in any accidents? 

It may not be obvious if a vehicle has been involved in an accident in the past. A talented body shop can make a damaged frame appear made whole again. However, a car that has been involved in a major accident will likely have the structural integrity of its frame permanently compromised. How it will hold up in a second accident is anybody's guess. This is a gamble that you don't want to take. 

If the owner is not aware of any accidents, now is another good time to consult the vehicle history report. There is a section titled "Junk, Salvage, Loss", and it will tell you if there have been any reported events in the category. Whenever a vehicle is received by a junk yard or salvage auction, it is very likely that major damage has occurred. Checking this section will confirm if the title is "clean" or was salvage vehicle that got restored after a total loss accident. 

4) How often did you change the oil?

Changing the oil is part of routine maintenance. It lubricates, cools, and cleans your engine. Over time, the oil gets dirty and stops doing its job.When that happens, your engine will overheat. An engine that habitually overheats will lose efficiency, and have its components damaged. If this goes on long enough, the engine itself will fail and have to be replaced. 

And that's a big chunk of change. Therefore, it's best to find out how often they changed the oil in their car. Ask them for their oil change records. Hopefully they held on to them! You don't want to have to take them at their word. 

Most new cars today can go 7,500 and even 10,000 miles in between oil changes. However it is not advised to do so without an oil life indicator, which lets you know when its time to change your oil, not based on mileage, but on the actual driving conditions that influence the oils effectiveness. 

For older cars ( pre 2007) it's generally recommended to change every 3,000 to 5,000 miles depending on the severity of the conditions that you drive your car in. 

To see what are defined as "severe" conditions by AAA, check out the following article.

5) What repairs am I going to need to get done this year? 

When looking at the asking price of the vehicle, you'll need to factor in the cost of repairs in the near future. Does the car need new tires? How are the brake pads and rotors? There could be problems in the cabin as well, such as malfunctioning A/C, spotty bluetooth connection, or blown stereo speakers. 

Repairs add up fast, so it's best to know what you're getting into. You can also ask about any pending vehicle recalls that need to be performed, which will also be available via the vehicle history report. Usually the fixes for the vehicle recalls are performed for free due to manufacture obligation, but it's still important to know what issues are currently present on the vehicle you're considering buying.

If the answers you get from question number 5 are not satisfactory, follow up with this.

6) Can I get the car independently inspected by a mechanic? 

Hopefully the seller got their car inspected in the last month or so, in preparation for the sale. If they have, ask to see the results of the inspection. If they have not done so, you'll want to have this done yourself. The seller should be fine with you getting an inspection done. Unless they have something to hide about their car of course, in which case you definitely don't want to be purchasing their car. 

7) Can I take the car on a test drive?

In general, you should never purchase a used car without test driving it first. This is another one of those questions where if the seller says "no", you should immediately walk away from the deal. The test drive is important, and will allow you to assess the condition of the car, and point out things to your mechanic that you would like them to look into further .

For an extensive guide on how to properly test-drive- a vehicle, check out the following article.

8) What are you willing to sell the car for? 

The question is a good one to ask after you've asked question #1, and have learned more about their selling situation. If you learn that they need to sell their car quickly, it is quite likely that they are willing to settle for a significant amount below the sticker price they are advertising. 

How much they are willing to go down is anyones guess. If you can, allow them to make the first offer- which you will then counter with a lower offer.

This is an easy way to save a couple hundred bucks on a car- sometimes even a thousand or more. 

9) What is the last used car you have sold? 

This question is to figure out if they do this for a living. Generally speaking, you don't want to buy a car from someone who buys used cars, fixes them up and then flips them for a profit. You don't want someone's livelihood weighing on whether they decide to spend that extra $1000 on fixing a problem that isn't readily obvious to a new buyer, but important to fix. Instead, you should aim to deal with regular car owners, who are prepared to sell the vehicle for less money than they paid for it. 


It's important to not be afraid to ask the right questions. A car is a big investment, and you deserve to be as informed as possible before signing the dotted line. 

The great thing about Swap Motors is that because of our platform, most of your questions can get answered before you even start talking to the seller! From our vehicle evaluations performed by ASE certified technicians to our in depth history reports, all of the pertinent information you'll need is easily accessible. 

Want to see for yourself? Check out one our cars and discover the Swap Motors difference!