Best used car buying tips

Buying a used car can be a frightening exercise, but these simple tips will help you find the right car without being ripped off. 

1. Budget

Set yourself a strict budget based on what you can afford. Remember that purchase price is just the start though, as there are ongoing running costs like fuel, maintenance, insurance, plus the interest on any finance used for the purchase to consider.

2. Research

Once you’ve set your budget, CarsGuide.com.au can help you get an idea of what vehicles are available within your price bracket. There are thousands of vehicles for sale to choose from, and there’s a handy value guide to help you know what to pay.

Be careful of cars that seem too cheap though. If something appears too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Refine your search

CarsGuide.com.au enables you to search for models based on make, model, price, body type, age, and location among many other helpful details. Seek advice from our thousands of expert reviews, including used reviews to find out what to look for when cars get a few years and kilometres under their belt, or our many guides to help you with your search.

4. Contact the seller

But first, jot down a list of questions to ask about each car so you don’t forget anything.

- How long have they owned the car?
- What is their reason for selling it?
- Has the vehicle ever been damaged?
- What condition is the car in, and is there any issues not show in the photos?
- Will it pass a roadworthy inspection?
- How detailed is the car’s service history and is it with the car?

Plus anything else that is not explained in the ad.

5. Arranging an inspection

If the person selling the car is a private party and not a dealer, insist on inspecting the car at their home address. If the vendor isn’t willing to show you the car at their home address, they could be trying to hide something.

6. Check the car’s history

No matter how genuine or honest the seller seems, it pays to check that the vehicle you are inspecting is not stolen, encumbered by an outstanding loan, or even a previous insurance write-off. All you need is the car’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) number and check against the databases in the state in which it’s registered. For a small fee (free in some states), this simple step could save you a lot of money and problems – even before you go to inspect a car.

New South Wales, ACT and Northern Territory
Victoria and Tasmania
Queensland
South Australia
Western Australia

7. Checking the car

Even if you’re not an expert, having a good look over the car in the flesh is very important before agreeing on any purchase. If the car passes your own inspection, it’s a great idea to have an independent mechanic or workshop conduct a more thorough inspection to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Here’s a few pointers for your personal inspection:

- always organise inspections during daylight, never in the dark or in rain that could conceal body marks, dents, rust and other defects
- check underneath the body, bonnet and carpet for rust and signs – such as evidence of welding or paint overspray -- which may indicate the car has been repaired after a crash
- check the gaps between the body panels are equal – if not, this could indicate poor crash repairs
- under the bonnet, look for signs of any oil leaks. Use the dipstick to check the amount of oil. If the level is low, the owner hasn’t been looking after the car properly
- look around the oil filler cap for a white mayonnaise-like substance - this could be an an indication of a leaking head gasket which can be very expensive to fix
- check all tyres – including the spare – to make sure there’s plenty of tread and that they’re wearing evenly
- inside the car, make sure the seatbelts work correctly and aren’t damaged, the front seats move properly and all switches and features work
- try to start the car when the engine is cold, which can help reveal problems like poor starting or smoke that indicates engine wear. If the seller has warmed the car up, they could be trying to hide something.

8. The test drive

- before you set off, turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other to check for any play, or any irregular noises that could indicate power steering problems
- test the handbrake on a steep hill to make sure it’s correctly adjusted
- listen for any irregular noises from the engine, and make sure the radio is off
- drive the car at highway speeds if possible, and try to find different road surfaces to give a better impression of how the car behaves  
- check that the transmission shifts up and down through the gears smoothly, and that the clutch on a manual doesn’t slip and actuates smoothly

9. Price negotiation

There is often leeway for bargaining down from the seller’s asking price

- Make a list of any faults you discovered during the inspection, and negotiate based on the cost of fixing these problems
- If there are no faults, suggest a reasonable figure beneath the asking price. The seller will then either accept, decline, or suggest a price closer to the asking figure. Work through this process until both parties agree.

10. Payment and paperwork

- Make sure all the registration and service history paperwork is in order, and the details match the seller. Also make sure you have original versions of everything - never photocopies.
- If you’re making a payment or even just a deposit, get a receipt and make sure the seller’s full details are on it. Most, if not all state registration papers will include a receipt for this purpose.

Happy motoring!

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