5 Questions Buyers Must Ask Before Purchasing a Car

So you have decided on your car of choice and test drove it, after a thorough review you don’t see or hear any major mechanical issues. Before you hand over your hard earned cash it is imperative that you ask the following questions to the seller–whether it be through a dealer or a private sale.
1. What is the Vehicle History Status?
Always ask the seller if she/he has records on the vehicle history, you want to look specifically for accident checks, odometer checks, vehicle usage i.e. prior service vehicle, taxi or rental, and branded titles. These reports can offer important insight on the current value of the vehicle. If you are planning on purchasing a vehicle in a private sale, it may be rare for the seller to possess a copy of vehicle history report such as a Car Fax or Auto Check by Experian so it can be a good investment to pay for a report yourself.
Are you planning on purchasing a vehicle from a dealer? California AB 1215 requires all licensed California dealers to provide prospective buyers with a National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) report. So just ask!
2. Do You Have the Certificate of Title? 
Be wary of a vehicles without a certificate of title, request additional evidence of clear title in the seller’s name including:

  • Previous registrations
  • Repair receipts
  • Supporting paperwork for lost/stolen title

Compare Vehicle ID numbers and license plates with the title and registration. Confirm that the person selling you the car is the same as the person whose name appears on the title. Request the seller to provide you a driver’s license, or other form of ID. Also if the car is owned by a business or corporation, require evidence that the person selling the car has the authority to do so.
For additional reassurance, ask the seller to accompany you to DMV to transfer ownership.
3. Do You Have Maintenance Records?
You may find some sellers verbally provide you with a list of recent vehicle maintenance or services, ask for copies of receipts and/or contact information if the services were performed by a automotive repair shop.
If no copies of recent services are provided, adjust your buy price accordingly.
4. Is the DMV Vehicle Registration Up to Date?
Don’t get stuck with paying outstanding vehicle registration fees, ask the seller to provide the most recent DMV vehicle registration card to see when the registration will expire. Or even better, log on to the California DMV website and use their Vehicle Registration Calculator to look up the registration dues directly…for free!
5. Do You Have the Smog Inspection Completed?
Never buy a vehicle without the smog already completed by the seller. DMV requires a smog inspection upon original registration, and upon transfer of ownership and registration of vehicles subject to the state’s air pollution control requirements [V.C. §4000.1]. Sellers cannot pass on this responsibility onto the buyer even if the buyer signs a contract accepting responsibility.

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