Considering buying from a private party - what to ask?

We are considering buying a 2007 Honda Pilot from a private party but what do we ask? We know to ask about accidents or fender benders and mileage but what else? We’re considering looking for a model with many options. This will be our first used car so this is new territory for us.

Ask to see maintenance records and ask if they mind if you take the car to your own private mechanic for an inspection. If they refuse walk away.

ask yourself.

common sense.


Wow, vwfueldoor really gave you some deep & powerful insight.

I don’t know what you should ask but I know what you should look at. ’

Inspect all gaps at body panels and make sure they are consistent. They should not be perfect but consistent.

Inspect body panel edges and look for tape lines.

Open the hood and inspect for overspray on engine parts and on the cowl vent. Also look to see if there are labels in the engine compartment. If the car was wrecked , thier absence MIGHT be a clue but some cars do not have many labels.

See if there paint/clearcoat lines around quarter glasses, door handles, etc.

Get up underneath and see if there is any crumpled metal. In the front look at frame rails and aprons, the parts inside the fenders. In the rear look at frame rails, rear body panel and the rear floor.

Feel around the inside of the rear wheel openings, i.e. quarter panels and feel for crumpled metal.

Your hands will get dirty but rub the palm of your hand across the tire tread. It should be somewhat flat and not “saw toothed”.

Hope this helps, someone else needs to chime in about the engine.


Aside from the maintenance and accident questions, I usually ask:

“Are you the original owner?”

“Does it use any fluids?” (oil, trans fluid, coolant)

“Does everything work?”

“Does the car need to have anything done right now?” “Soon?”

“Do you have the title right now?” “Is there a lein?”

I sometimes ask these questions right over the phone before even getting involved in seeing the car to help qualify or disqualify the car as a potential candidate.
I have found that asking these questions often yields true and valuable answers. When asked in person, you even get to see body language and the person’s reaction.
Items mentioned that need attention can be used to negotiate the price down.

in a situation where you have spent considerable time with the car and owner and everything checks out and you decide that this car is for you, I ask, “What is the least you will take for the car?” This will not always yield great results, however I recently called on a car for my college student son that was in the paper at a good price, but fairly far away. I had to ask most of my qualifying questions on the phone (why waste the trip?) The guy went from $5500 to $5000! We drove there, spent quite a bit of time, just about became friends with the couple, and I wanted that car. My final question was, “What’s the least you would take for the car?” The answer was, “Anything over $4000.” I said, “how about $4000?” The answer was “Yes,” and they took a personal out-of-town check on a Sunday.

It doesn’t hurt to ask lots of questions. When something doesn’t seem quite right you have to go away and think about it, even risking the purchase.


I do that too and you also probably look to see if the tires all match or see if there is an “oddball” and if so find out why. I see if the spare tire has ever been on the ground and if so get the story on that."

I get good “vibes” when the tires all match and are in good shape, the spare is like new and the jack is in place, and the owners manual is in the glove compartment and all other things have checked out.

Ask them if they have the title to the car. It’s better if they don’t because the bank may have to tell you if there is anything wrong with it such as body damage. Make sure that nothing strange happens when you road test it. If it doesn’t run absolutely right, don’t buy it. Those are just my two points.

Those are very good also, thanks.

Rockford has given you excellent advice.

If the car’s present owner has not retained his/her maintenance records, that is not a good sign, as it could mean that the person has not maintained the vehicle at all–or it could indicate that the vehicle has not been maintained as per the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. A vehicle that is this new should have a lot of warranty coverage remaining, but failure to maintain the vehicle properly could have already voided the terms of the warranty.

As bizarre as it might sound, there are people who simply don’t do even basic things like having the oil changed. Back in the late '60s, I worked with a guy who hadn’t changed the oil in his Maverick’s engine in 18,000 miles because he “didn’t believe in that stuff”. I found this out the hard way when we were stranded in South Carolina, due to multiple breakdowns of this never-maintained vehicle!

And, if the seller is not willing to let you take a vehicle to your own mechanic for inspection prior to purchase, that could indicate an attempt to conceal an existing problem or collision damage.

Why are they selling the truck? We all suspect it is to improve mileage, but you need to hear their answer.

How many miles are on the odometer? The truck is only one to two years old. Certainly the oil should have been changed, and you could ask to see those receipts. There might not be any others. Pull the dip stick and look at the oil if they say the oil was just changed. Old oil will be black; newer oil should be honey colored.

For a car this new it may not be as big a deal but I generally rephrase the above questions a bit. Instead of asking “Does it use any fluids?” try asking, “How much oil does it use?” and instead of, “Has it ever been in an accident?” I ask, “When was the last accident?” A little psychology can help immensely.

When renting apartments a friend always checks out the prospective renter’s cars. She says that if they don’t take care of the car they won’t take care of the apartment. You can apply this in reverse a bit if you are visiting them at their home. I would especially look at the garage. It doesn’t have to be perfect but look for oil bottles, windshield wiper fluid, etc. This can give you some hint as to how they treated the vehicle.

I agree with JT. Anyone selling a 2007 model Honda should have a sensible reason. I always ask “why are you selling this car?” and the answer better make sense to me or I pass. I bought my current Escort from a young woman who insisted to Daddy that she just had to have a Jeep. Her loss, my gain.

I’ll bet she’s wishing she kept that Escort now. :stuck_out_tongue:
I’ll retort with this; If you’re looking at a used 07 Honda, for probably a couple grand more, you could get a brand new one with everything you want on/in it. Even the Pilot hasn’t depreciated that much I don’t think.

While we thought Car Talk folks would provide great answers, we had no idea how great. To all who have responded with detailed questions and suggestions - Thank You! You delved into areas we would never have considered. Great ideas, too, on how to phrase the questions.

We don’t have an independent mechanic to evaluate the “new” vehicle since our 1995 Camry XLE (165,000 miles)has been serviced by the dealership. We thought this year we’d try to buy a used car/suv and save some serious money. However, the suggestion about buying new has merit given the economy and abundance of SUVs.

Based on your input we’re in the process of making a list of questions and the things to look for on the vehicle. Thanks again. The information was the best.


Clever. I thought I was sneaky.


Another thing I like to do and maybe you already do, is to start shopping the market several days or weeks before making a purchase. I try to get a sense of what year car, how many miles, what options, etc. do you get for x-dollars. I look at several, even car lots. That way when a really good deal comes along I’ll know that it is a good deal. I try for a good enough deal that if there are a couple of things that might need attention after the purchase, it is still a good deal. I walk away and keep looking if it isn’t.

Most people already do this when buying real estate.

I will try to forward an e-mail I got at the shop titled “6 Things Never To Say To A Salesman”. It might help.

The most important thing to ask is whether the owner will permit an inspection by your mechanic at your expense. If they don’t agree to this, don’t buy the car. I insist on this when buying a used car from a dealer, too. The only exception is a car that your mechanic already knows because it belongs to one of his other customers.

All are excellent suggestions. I also test the radio presets. Gives me an idea of the owner’s disposition. And absolutely make sure that the title is good.

Just curious…

Which radio presets represent desirable owner dispositions?

Heavy Metal?

Country Western?


24 hour Disco?

Right Wing AM Talk Radio?

Left Wing FM National Public Radio?

All Elvis Sation?

24 hour Barry Manilow?


Hip Hop?



This could help in my next car purchase. Plus, I’d like to check my own disposition on my presets.