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Everything You Need to Know

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

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

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What is the MSRP?

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

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

What other fees are included in the sale price?

Many car shoppers don’t realize that the MSRP of the vehicle isn’t the final price. When you see the final contract, you’ll notice additional fees tacked on, like a documentation fee, dealer preparation fee, and sales tax.

To avoid sticker shock, ask the dealer upfront what other fees you’ll have to pay if you purchase the vehicle.

Is there are warranty?

Most new cars have a warranty that’s included with 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 powertrain warranty.

These plans cover the most important parts and systems in your vehicle, like 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, like lane departure alerts and forward collision detection. However, it’s a good idea to ask the dealership to review the car’s safety features and pull up the car’s safety rating.

Organizations like 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’re interested in and avoid models with poor ratings.

How many miles does the vehicle have?

If you’re looking at a used car, it’s important to find out how many miles the car has on it. This will affect everything from the price to the remaining lifespan of the vehicle.

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

Is the car certified pre-owned (CPO)?

Certified pre-owned cars are lightly used vehicles that have been serviced by the dealership. 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, like 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 you’re buying a used car, it’s a good idea to ask the seller about aftermarket parts the previous owner might have installed.

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

Was this car in an accident?

Another very important question to ask when purchasing a used vehicle, either 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 purchasing a car that has sustained major damage, including frame damage, in a collision.

What incentives or rebates are you offering?

It’s common for car dealerships 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 dealerships in the area to see which one has the best offers right now.

Do you offer financing?

Pretty much all the biggest car brands offer in-house financing through the dealership. The dealership’s finance team will help you apply and get matched with loan offers. If you choose one of the dealer’s partner lenders, the loan funds get sent directly to the dealer.

You might 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’ll need to secure a loan from a third-party company, like your bank, and transfer the funds to the seller.

Where did you get the car?

It can be helpful to ask to 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 a different dealer, or purchased it at auction. This can give you a better idea of the vehicle’s history and usage.

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 includes 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 maintained the vehicle was by the previous owner, and if there were any major repairs done, like replacing the transmission.

Has the car been recently serviced?

Find out if the car was recently serviced. Cars that have been sitting on the lot for an extended period 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 in 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 that you’re comfortable with the vehicle before you agree to buy it. Ask the dealer if you take the car for an extended test drive or keep it overnight. Some dealerships, like CarMax, offer a 24-hour test drive for anyone who wants some extra time with the vehicle.

Can I trade in my current vehicle?

If you’re looking 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’s never a bad idea to ask the dealer or seller if they are willing to negotiate on the price of the car. Ask politely if there’s any wiggle room in the price and come ready with a few reasons to back up your offer.

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

Finance & Insurance Editor

Elizabeth Rivelli is a freelance writer with more than three years of experience covering personal finance and insurance. She has extensive knowledge of various insurance lines, including car insurance and property insurance. Her byline has appeared in dozens of online finance publications, like The Balance, Investopedia,, Forbes, and Bankrate.

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