The used car market is hopping, with record-setting highs in both the volume of certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle sales and used vehicle values in 2014, according to Edmunds.com’s 2014 Used Vehicle Market Report.* With so many vehicles on the market and at higher prices, the pressure is on to make a smart spending decision. Asking the right questions—particularly if you're buying from a private seller—and knowing the right answers can help.

  1. How many miles has the vehicle been driven?
    If the answer is less than 5,000 or over 20,000 miles per year, find out why. Keep in mind that a vehicle with higher mileage due to highway commutes may have less wear and tear than a car with lower mileage accumulated in stop-and-start city traffic.
  2. How is the car equipped?
    Even if you already know the car’s features from reading the advertisement, get the owner talking about cruise control, transmission type, upholstery, air conditioning and other features. This may provide insight into how the vehicle has been treated or how it has performed.
  3. What safety features does the vehicle have?
    Anti-lock brake systems, electronic stability control, head-protecting side airbags, seatbelt adjustment features and “smart” front airbags are all life-saving features that may be worth seeking out (and could save you money on insurance!).
  4. What is the vehicle’s condition?
    What the seller doesn’t say may be as telling as what he or she does mention. Follow up with specific questions about any areas the seller hasn’t addressed, such as the body of the vehicle, its interior and its mechanical condition.
  5. How many owners has the vehicle had?
    If there has been only one owner, you’re more likely to get a complete car history. Be suspicious of a vehicle that has changed hands numerous times.
  6. Has the vehicle been involved in an accident or flooding?
    Minor fender benders may not be a concern, but major collisions or flooding can cause serious damage that may be difficult to spot during a casual once-over. Many used car shoppers have gone the route of consulting an impartial third party by ordering a vehicle history report to document any previous major incidents the seller might not want to admit to.
  7. Has the vehicle been recalled?
    Go to www.safercar.gov to find recall information for the make and model you’re considering, or enter the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) of the specific car you’re looking at to find out if it's been repaired due to a safety recall in the past 15 years.
  8. Do you have the vehicle’s service records?
    Maintenance records will demonstrate how conscientious the owner has been about vehicle upkeep. Even if the seller does have maintenance records, consider taking the vehicle to a mechanic who can tell you if it’s in good repair.
  9. Are you the primary driver?
    Talking to the principal driver can help you decide if the car was handled responsibly or not. If you’re a nonsmoker, you may also want to find out whether anyone smoked frequently in the car.
  10. Why are you selling the vehicle?
    If the answer seems evasive, long-winded or implausible, read between the lines. Ask yourself if the car is truly a smart buy.

Let Navy Federal Help

Once you’re equipped with the right questions to ask, you’ll want to be prepared financially, too. Navy Federal Credit Union offers low-rate auto loans tailored to your needs.

*Source: Edmunds.com, “2014 Used Vehicle Market Report,” www.edmunds.com.