7 Questions Car Dealerships Hate You to Ask (And What to Ask Instead)

Asking the right questions — and avoiding the wrong ones — can help you get the car you want.

sales agent helping adult couple
Updated July 18, 2024
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Buying a car can be stressful, so it’s important to head to the dealership prepared to ask the right questions.

Fail to prepare, and it’s all too easy to end up asking the wrong questions. That could result in failing to get the car you want or ending up paying a price that jeopardizes your financial fitness.

Before you head to your local dealership to look for a new or used vehicle, here are some questions you should drop from your list and what you should ask instead.

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‘How many owners has the car had?’

standret/Adobe man with woman in white

Asking how many owners a car has had doesn’t really help you uncover issues a vehicle has had. A dealer might very well wonder how the question is relevant.

Remember that the car could have several previous owners who all took good care of it or several owners who didn’t do any maintenance.

Ask instead: "What do you know about the car's history?"

The car’s history is a much better indication of the type of vehicle you're getting. This can be particularly important if the car has been in an accident previously, as you may need to ensure the car was fixed properly.

‘Was the car ever serviced at a dealer?’

littlewolf1989/Adobe car dealer presenting new car

The dealership might not know if the car was serviced at a dealer before. And even if they do know, they will probably wonder how knowing this information can be helpful to you.

Ask instead: "What service records are available with this car?"

Service records are important because they can tell you if a previous owner kept up on necessary service and whether the work was done by a dealership or at another garage.

Being able to look at the service records is likely to result in better information than simply asking the dealer whether the car was serviced at a dealer.

‘Has the car been listed long?’

Oleksandr/Adobe car dealership having SUV cars

Dealers are unlikely to take a shine to your inquiry about whether the car has been languishing on the lot. They may view it as an attempt to get the car at a dirt-cheap price.

Ask instead: "Was this car ever wrecked or stolen?"

It’s legitimate to wonder if a car has been sitting on the lot for a long time — and if so, why. So, try to ask this question to get the information you need.

You might need to review a car more closely if it has been in an accident so you can make sure repairs were done properly. A stolen vehicle should get more scrutiny so you can make sure the title is clean before you purchase it.

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‘Is this car a lemon?’

littlewolf1989/Adobe couple sitting inside new car

A prickly question like this is sure to raise the dealer’s hackles. Lemon laws protect you in case a dealer tries to sell you a faulty car or one with undisclosed issues.

But a dealer is not likely to take kindly to a question that sounds more like an accusation.

Ask instead: "Do you know of any current issues with this car?"

This is a friendlier way to get information about the true state of the car. Asking for details about specific current issues can help you and the dealer focus on problems and potential fixes.

‘What is the best deal you can give me?’

Maksym Povozniuk/Adobe couple buying a new car

Simply asking this question point-blank is unlikely to elicit the best results. It may even put the dealer on the defensive.

Negotiation is a delicate dance, so it’s better to be a little less blunt.

Ask instead: "What incentives come with this car?"

Asking this question takes some of the negotiating off the table, making it easier for you to focus on specific incentives that are simply an expected part of the deal.

Check websites such as Edmunds to find the latest incentives for vehicles. This can help you narrow down your options, especially if you’re looking to buy a new vehicle.

‘Where is the car from?’

Tomasz Zajda/Adobe vehicles parked in parking lot

You may think buying a car that was driven on Wisconsin’s salty winter roads is worse than choosing a car bathed in California sunshine. But dealers know that cars face challenges wherever they are driven.

For example, California cars encounter salty ocean air that can be corrosive.

Ask instead: "How many miles are on the car?"

A better indicator of what a car has been through is the everyday wear and tear it experiences mile after mile. A car with fewer miles — especially if it’s been well-maintained — is often a better choice than a vehicle with lots of miles on the odometer.

‘Has it been inspected?’

Petro/Adobe young man testing new car

Asking whether a car was inspected won’t tell you much about the actual condition of the car, and it might just annoy the dealer.

Ask instead: "Is it a certified pre-owned vehicle?"

A certified pre-owned vehicle is a car that’s probably coming off a lease. That means it should have fewer miles and fewer years on it than many used cars.

It also means the dealership has inspected the vehicle and might give you extra coverage on the car, including warranties. Buying certified pre-owned can give you peace of mind at a price that helps you get ahead financially.

Bottom line

dusanpetkovic1/Adobe talking about specifications of cars

There are plenty of important questions you should ask when buying a new vehicle, so make sure you're focused on questions that will get you the best answers.

And remember to continue to ask good questions long after you drive the car off the dealer lot. For example, comparing quotes from various insurers and asking them the right questions can help you save money on car insurance.

The more time you take to research matters related to your car, the more you can save and the better your experience will be for as long as you own the vehicle.

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Author Details

Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.