Never Ask These Questions When Buying a Car. Please.
The fundamental issue with the majority of these questions is that people are unable to judge condition/care on their own so they use metrics that they assume in some way correlate to the condition of the car but actually don’t. Those metrics only have a correlation to VALUE because we’ve been told that they should (via sources like Carfax).
Without further ado, let’s get into the list.
“How many owners?“
Wow this is the dumbest one. There is statistically no correlation between the number of owners and the condition of a car. Period. People will apply this on an absolute scale and not a relative scale. Let me explain. Let’s say people keep a high-end car on average for 3 years (it’s a toy, not a tool, after all). People are OK with a 6 year old car with two owners, but then somehow an 18-yr old car with 6 owners is a hot potato despite it having the same average ownership length.
The first underlying assumption is that people only sell a car if something’s wrong with it, which is erroneous. The second assumption is that one owner is better than two is better than eight because the longer someone keeps a car, the better they care for it (also hogwash).
“Was it serviced at a dealer?“
An argument could be made that people who care less about their cars service it at the dealer because they don’t know any better. I’ve heard of one specific high-line European store doing oil changes with recycled oil on under warranty, high-end German cars. Car dealers have a tendency to be shady and their service departments are no exception. An independent service shop is just as good, and in some cases better than the service shop with the franchise name on the sign.
The PPI episode from a few weeks back will shed a bit more light on this issue.
“Where is the car from?”
I’m located in Ohio so I may have a bias here (except I don’t really). I’ve got a facility that is wall-to-wall FULL with people’s cars who don’t want their nice Porsches and Ferraris to get exposed to road salt. People up here care about their cars! If someone operates under the assumption that cars from California will always be in better condition than cars from Ohio, they’re sorely mistaken. What about the salty air when you’re on the coast? Or the effects of UV rays on a car in a state where it’s hot, dry, and sunny all year long?
Then you have to factor in humidity as well in places like Florida. Florida is actually one of the scariest states to buy cars from due to the constant humidity and sun beating down all the time. The point is, you cannot make assumptions that some parts of the country are better than others for cars.
“Have you had any interest/offers?“
All this tells me as a seller is “I’m not ready to buy.” It also takes away your negotiating power if the answer is in the affirmative. You want to establish yourself as the best buyer and you don’t do that by getting the seller to think about how much other interest they’ve had.
It’s like going out on a first date and asking her, “So do you have any other guys after you? Oh……….you do? …..how are they?” You’re always trying to sell yourself! You don’t want her to think of the other guys that may or may not be interested. Likewise, you don’t want the seller thinking about the other offers he may or may not have.
Ultimately the only offer that matters is the one that buys the car. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot with this question.
“How long has it been for sale?“
Kind of irrelevant. People think, similar to if a car has been through a lot of owners, that the longer a car has been for sale, the more likelihood that something is wrong with it. Sure, that could be the case. But more than likely, the seller is just asking for too much money.
“Is it on consignment?“
My response to this typically is, “It’s for sale.”
There is a valid reason for asking this (sales tax exemptions in certain states), but 9 times out of 10 people ask because they think they have more negotiating power if its consignment vs inventory, and often it’s the exact opposite.
If I list a car as a private seller, I am way more susceptible to lowballers, scammers, and all of that nonsense thrown at me that people don’t really even bother dealerships with. Essentially, this question is signifying (to me at least) that you’re looking to see how much you can take advantage of the seller.
“Why are you selling it?“
You’re basically asking the seller to lie to you. Valid answers that I’ve heard: Nasty divorce, I hate the car, I’m too old and can’t get in/out of it anymore, I’ve been diagnosed with terminal cancer, I can’t afford my kid’s college, this thing is a British pile of junk and my mechanic earns more than I do, my business is suffering, and/or I need the money. In actuality, do you REALLY want to know? The point of the question is: ‘Is this car terrible?’
Because if it is, the seller damn sure ain’t gonna tell you.
“What will it be worth in ___ years?“
Please. Please. Stop asking this question.
This unfortunate question has been perpetuated by opportunistic dealers and salespeople in the collector car sphere who love to use the line “it will only go up in value”.
You’ll never hear this question about a Camry, or even for that matter a base 911 or a Corvette. If the seller knew the answer, one, they wouldn’t be in the car business, and if they knew it would be going up, they wouldn’t be selling it.
It’s like asking a gold bullion salesman if gold is a good investment. It always is for them because they buy at wholesale and sell at retail.
“How old was the owner?“
This one stems from the assumption that old people are better car owners than young people. Are they more mature? Arguably. But that doesn’t mean they are more skilled. Bad habits don’t go away automatically, in fact, they become ingrained.
“What’s your bottom line?“
This is one of the few that I don’t take my own advice on. However, once again you’re asking the seller to lie to you, because they either don’t know their bottom line or they’re not going to tell you.
The reason is because buyers are dishonest in asking this question – they use it as a new starting point for negotiations. I refuse to answer this question as a result of having a zero % success rate when it is asked. It is an immediate red flag to me that the buyer is not for real. However, if you are for real, and the seller gives you a fat discount when you ask for their bottom line, prove me wrong and friggin’ buy the car.
Ask quantifiable, direct questions. Most of these are indirect questions in that you’re asking something that hopefully leads to the real answer you want. For instance I got stopped on the water by the Sheriff – he asked how old I was, and I responded “I have my boater’s license”. This mattered, because a license in Ohio is only required for those born after 1982. He got upset at me for not answering his question, and I just responded that I was answering the next question he was going to ask based on the answer to my age. Same principle applies – ask the question that you actually want an answer to, not the one that’s tied to an assumption that may or may not be correct.
Next week we’ll give you the list of questions you need to ask to get to the bottom of what you want and need to know, which is: Is this a good car or a bad car?
Listen to this episode in full below!