Tips for Buying a Used Car (and Not Regretting it!)
January 25th, 2017
Lots of people make the mistake of buying a used car without first making sure that it ticks all the right boxes. Here are some tips to help you make the right decision when it comes to your purchase – because we don’t want you to get ripped off.
Set a Budget + Assess your needs
Your first step is to set yourself a realistic and manageable budget based on your earnings. Don’t forget to consider ongoing costs like fuel, maintenance, insurance and interest on the finance if you are taking out a loan. Once you have set yourself a budget, you need to ascertain what you want most out of your vehicle – safety features? Great fuel economy? A comfortable interior? Helpful driver assistance? Make a list of all the qualities you would like your car to have, and use these to guide your research.
Do the Research
Now that you have set yourself a budget and figured out what you want in your car, you need to research what’s out there. When searching, make sure to look up the fuel consumption and emissions rating of prospective cars. The Green Vehicle Guide can help you with this.
Once you find a vehicle that you like, research it to death – don’t stop until you know all of its weak points, typical repair and costs intervals and price points.
Note – Beware of cars that seem ridiculously cheap! If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Contact the seller
Once you’ve found a car that sounds like it meets your needs, it’s time to contact the seller. Before you do this, write up a list of questions that you need to ask the seller, including (but definitely not limited to):
- How long have they owned the car?
- Why are they selling it?
- Has the car ever been damaged? Are there any issues with the car that aren’t shown in photos or listed in the description?
- Has it passed a roadworthy inspection?
- How detailed is the car’s service history and does the seller have it on hand?
- Is it registered? If so, when does the registration run out?
Arrange an inspection
If you are purchasing the car from a private seller, arrange to see the car at their home address. If the vendor isn’t willing to show you the car at their home, it could indicate that they aren’t being truthful about legally owning the vehicle.
Check the car’s history
Regardless of how great the car seems or how nice the seller appears, you need to check that the vehicle isn’t stolen or tied to an outstanding loan. All you need to perform this check is the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which you enter into your State Government’s Vehicle Information Check.
Here are the links to the Australian car check databases:
- New South Wales, ACT and Northern Territory
- Victoria and Tasmania
- South Australia
- Western Australia
Inspect the car
Never purchase a car without first seeing it in the flesh! Here are some tips for your personal inspection:
- Inspect the car in daylight. Never inspect in the rain or at night as this can be a seller’s opportunity to conceal dents, rust, marks, scratches and other unwanted defects.
- Check underneath the body, bonnet and carpet for rust and any signs that the car might have been repaired after a crash (like evidence of welding, paint overspray or gaps between the car’s body panels).
- Under the bonnet – check for oil leaks. Use the dipstick to check the amount of oil. If the level is low, it can indicate that the owner hasn’t taken care of the car.
- Look around the oil filter cap – if you see a white mayonnaise-like substance, this can be an indication of a leaking head gasket, which can be very pricey to fix.
- Check the tires – make sure that there is plenty of tread and that they are wearing evenly.
- Make sure that the seat belts, seats, switches, windows and other features are working as they should be.
- If possible, start the car when the engine is cold – a lagging start or smoke indicate engine wear issues. If the seller has warmed the car up when you arrive, they might be hiding something.
- Check the number of kilometres the car has done. An average car will wrack up about 20,000kms per year. If the car appears to have done significantly more than this per year, consider asking for a discounted price.
*Make sure to take notes of any irregularities that you notice.
Once you’ve checked the car over, you need to take it for a test drive.
Tips for you test drive:
- Drive with the radio off so you can listen out for irregular engine noises.
- If possible, take the car onto the highway and over a range of different surfaces.
- Take the car up steep hills and check the handbrake.
- If the car is manual, check the gears and make sure that the clutch doesn’t slip and that it actuates smoothly.
*Again, take notes of any irregularities that you notice!
Take it to your mechanic
Even if you are happy with the car and haven’t noticed any signs of damage, have your mechanic perform a check so that you can be 100% sure. If you ended up making notes during the inspection or test drive, bring these to show them.
When you are finalising the deal, don’t forget that there is always room to negotiate (reasonably!).
If you noticed any faults with the car, negotiate based on how much it will cost to fix these impairments. If you did not notice any faults, suggest a reasonable figure below the asking price, and the seller will either accept, decline or suggest another price. Work through this process until you and the seller are satisfied with the amount.
And one final thing, before you drive away in your new (used) car…
Obtain all necessary paperwork!
Make sure that you have all of the car’s paperwork (original copies), including:
- Service history documents
- Receipts – when making a purchase or putting down a deposit, make sure that you get a receipt with the seller’s details on it.
For more information about buying a used car, or if you are looking to explore your lease, loan or insurance options, don’t hesitate to contact us. We provide a range of car finance services in Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin.