Skip navigation
14788 Visits Today

How to buy a used car 10 tips

  • image

    Work out how much you can afford to spend, and don't forget to include registration, insurance and regular maintenance and running costs.

Buying a used car can be a minefield. But Carsguide can help you through it.

There are a few simple things to remember and steps to take, that will make the experience easier and assist you in avoiding being ripped-off.

1. Set your budget

Work out how much you can afford to spend, and don’t forget to include registration, insurance and regular maintenance and running costs. Both for insurance, and if you’re going to get a loan, shop around to get the best rate.

2. Do your research

It's important to have a thorough look at what’s out there before buying a used car. To get an idea of a model’s current market price, spend some time searching our used car ads online or in your local newspaper. Also check out our price guide to help you avoid paying too much.

Be wary if you find a used car where the price is much lower than the market suggests it should be. If you’re determined to take it further, have the car checked thoroughly. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Find the right car

Browse cars by body type, make or price  to find out which make and model might suit you
Go window shopping by make and model, age, location… and all kinds of other helpful details
Read our expert reviews of the car you’re looking for
Check the latest car news to see if a new model is coming -- which can reduce the price of previous models when it arrives.

4. Contact the seller

And when you do, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions…

- how long have they had the car
- why are they selling it
- has it ever been damaged
- what condition is it in
- will it meet a RWC
- does it have any `bad habits’

5. Looking at the car

If the seller is a private party rather than a dealer, always go to their home address. Don’t arrange to meet them somewhere. Check that the home address is the same as the one on the registration certificate. Take a printout or copy of the seller’s advertisement with you to check that details like the odometer numbers are accurate.

6. Check the car’s history

No matter how genuine the seller seems, you should check the history of the car to make sure it’s not stolen, encumbered by an outstanding loan, or even a previous write-off. Get the car’s VIN 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.

New South Wales, ACT and Northern Territory

Victoria and Tasmania


South Australia

Western Australia

7. Checking the car

Make sure you have a thorough look over the car yourself, and best of all, have an independent mechanic or automotive centre check it out properly on a hoist. It could save you thousands by revealing mechanical problems and previous damage.

- always look at the car in full daylight, never in the dark or in rain that could conceal body marks, dents, rust and other defects
- check under the car, the bonnet and the interior carpet for rust and signs – such as welding marks -- which may show the car has been in a crash
- under the bonnet, look for signs of oil leaks on top of the engine, and underneath. 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 is an indication of a damaged head gasket which can be very expensive to put right
- take a look at the tyres to make sure they’re in good condition with plenty of tread
- get down in front of each front wheel and look along the length of the car. Both front wheels should be directly in front of the rear ones – if they're not, it could mean the car has been in a crash and ended up with a slightly twisted or `crabbed’ chassis
- check the gaps between the body panels are equal – if they're not, the car could have been refitted badly, or may have been in a crash
- inside the car, make sure the seatbelts work correctly, the steering wheel and dashboard are bolted on correctly, the front seats move properly and all switches work
- start the car with a cold engine, which will make is easier to reveal problems like poor starting or too much smoke

8. Test drive the car

- before you set off, turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other to make sure there is no screeching, banging, or knocking
- to test the handbrake, pull it on and then try to drive off very gently. It should hold the car back
- listen for strange noises from the engine, and don’t let the seller distract you by talking or turning up the radio
- drive on as many different roads surfaces as possible
- use all the gears, and check the gear change is slick and smooth
- make sure the clutch pedal 'bites' between the top and middle of the pedal's travel

9. Negotiating the price

The price is the price, but there’s often leeway for bargaining.

- Make a list of any faults you found with the car, or any work that might need doing, and calculate how much this could add to the price.
- From this position, negotiate the price with the seller.
- Ask the seller what their best price is, make a lower offer and then say nothing. They can only either turn you down, accept your offer or name another price closer to yours.

10. Paperwork and payment

- Make sure all the paperwork is in order, and that you have original versions (never photocopies) everything … registration papers, service history and logbook
- 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

Never ... and we mean never ... give or send a seller money without seeing the car, or without getting a receipt with all the details. 

Scammers may ask you to send money by Western Union, Moneygram or other risky methods, or even through an address pretending to be Carsguide. Do not send them the money, and contact Carsguide immediately to report any seller you feel is a fraud. Carsguide does not act as an agent in handling buyer and sellers money, so any request to do this should be treated suspiciously.




Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 52 comments

  • I tend to take a deeper look on loan company. I make sure they are legit business.

    jason spark of United States Posted on 20 March 2014 3:11am
  • What is also vital to test and when I was in Aus for some reason I just assumed (first mistake of many) that the car has ABS breaks and that they work.  When test driving do a couple of emergency test to make sure!

    PienaarI of NSW Posted on 28 January 2014 8:20pm
  • For me, what made me decide was when I test drive it. You can choose car by price and feature but you need to know what if feels like to drive it.

    Audrey Trott of Sydney Posted on 21 January 2014 5:22pm
  • at all dont trust loans in any type of pursuing cauze more interests for bankers & economic killers thxxxxxxxx

    mohamed hesham ahmed of egypt Posted on 23 December 2013 3:04am
  • It can be a good decision to search on agregators

    AlexMillevich Posted on 13 December 2013 8:45pm
  • Is there a site in OZ and how much do they cost?

    UK tourist of Perth Posted on 31 October 2013 8:42pm
  • ” 5. Looking at the car
    If the seller is a private party rather than a dealer, always go to their home address. Don’t arrange to meet them somewhere.  “

    This reccommendation contradicts advice given by the Police when selling something online where they suggest meeting at a neutral venue with high visibilty rather then having someone around to your house.

    3 yrs ago I had someone around to my house to look at a motorbike, and they came back to steal it that night. Would you really reccommend to others to let a complete stranger come to your house?

    Nowadays with the free ppsr search and online registration validity check tools from the government this advice is no longer relevant and potentially dangerous to avoid purchasing a stolen car.

    Simon of Perth Posted on 31 October 2013 7:03pm
  • can a used car purchased from a dealer be driven without any insurance and the car still registered to the dealer———————————————————————————————————————During the transition of ownnership of a car, your best bet is to organise a temporary insurance ‘cover note’ until more permanent arrangements are made. - Ed

    Danny abbott of south australia Posted on 28 September 2013 8:15pm
  • Panel alignment is relative. For example, a Japanese assembled 626 should have perfect alignment. A Ford Telstar (essentially the same car) assembled by Australians will normally have lower levels of detail paid to the panel alignment. There’s a reason Australian cars aren’t highly sought after!

    John Adams of Toowoomba Posted on 11 September 2013 1:25am
  • Very useful information! Recently I was searching for this kind of advices because I am planning to buy an used car Thanks!

    John Brown Posted on 19 August 2013 4:06am
  • HCG loves this

    hcg of USA Posted on 27 July 2013 1:17am
  • HCG thinks this is good advice

    hcg Posted on 27 July 2013 1:16am
  • Sell your junk cars to us

    Junk Cars Posted on 27 July 2013 1:15am
  • We buy Junk cars

    Junk Cars Posted on 27 July 2013 1:14am
  • Instant cash for your junk cars.

    Junk cars Posted on 27 July 2013 1:13am
  • There are three ways or things you can do with a damaged car. We will now present the three alternatives how you can get rid of your useless vehicle.

    Philadelphia Posted on 27 July 2013 1:12am
  • Hi Karla!

    Thanks for the post “How to buy a used car: 10 tips”. I found it very helpful and expect other will find it useful too.

    Mike—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————Hi Mike, glad you enjoyed the story! - Karla

    Diesel Engine Reman Posted on 20 July 2013 7:06am
  • Can anyone help me what is the minimum time left on a rego allow on a car being sold at a dealer in nsw regional?

    Sjn Posted on 16 July 2013 7:03pm
  • Check if the timing belt has been changed.  This, if a belt as a pose to a chain usually must be replaced every 60000 km.  on some cars if it is not changed and breaks it could destroy the engine.  Replacement is usually around the four hundred dollar mark give or take, but needs to be done.


    Tommaso Petrella of Hamilton ont Posted on 05 January 2013 6:37pm
  • make sure the seller has the spare key, some of the new cars spare keys are well over $500,dont get caught out!

    Diamond Jim of Vic Posted on 29 December 2012 2:32pm
  • The link to revs on your site is wrong!

    Thanks for letting us know. we’ve fixed it. - Karla

    AJ of Sydney Posted on 07 December 2012 10:24am
  • is the Pakistan biggest free Selling and Buying portal of used cars, imported cars, Japanese Cars, hybrid cars, Toyota, Honda, Suzuki . You can buy your dream car or post free ads to sell your car.  We believe fair prices, superior service and treating customers’ right leads to satisfied repeat buyers.

    Race Car of Race Car Posted on 26 November 2012 4:37pm
  • Dave i get what you are saying about getting access to spare parts, but if it is a very popular euro car who says it is going to be hard to get spare parts? I drive a Holden Astra, which is really an opel and it is now 10 yrs old and it has never broken down and only this year after 10 years did i have to get the battery replaced! it has been an amazing car. It is a very common car and i bet you $100 that you couldnt drive from one side of town to the other without at least seeing 5… so my point is if there are lots around… how is there going to be an issue on accessing parts?

    maxine of geelong Posted on 01 November 2012 11:50am
  • we want to buy a small car for my daughter we have about 5500 to spend and want to know a good car to buy for the money.

    trevor doward of melbourne Posted on 14 October 2012 7:53am
  • Remember to Check the tyres and service record properly, even the car is in very good condition tyres may need replacing soon and the next service is due soon.
    This happened to me when I bought our car from the Govt Auction in SA. I got the car for a pretty good price (around 1500 bucks cheaper than the closest advertised price ), but they haven’t done the 60K service so I had to do it myself, and it needed front break pads as well. altogether it cost me 440 to get it done within 1 week I bought the car. The other thing that worries me is the tyre condition. it has barely 2-3 millimetres of tread on them (all 4 tyres). So I may have to replace the tyres within next 3000 kms. And it will cost me at least 500-600 bucks to get the tyres fixed + do the wheel alignment (with the cheapest available tyres). So theoretically I haven’t got any bargain from the Auction. But it was all my fault because I did not taken into the account the fact that the 60K log book service + replacing 4 tyres going to cost extra 1000 bucks.

    Andy of Adelaide Posted on 21 September 2012 1:09pm
  • I have always preferred buying private to buying from a dealer. I have lost count of the number of dodgy practices I have seen from dealers. One particularly egregious example was one car which had a perfect service record - except when I checked, the service record was for a car with a different VIN. They then mysteriously ‘found’ the actual service record which showed it had missed several services…Private sellers are generally reasonably honest, and don’t know the tricks many used car dealers know to conceal problems with cars. Just be sure to ask plenty of questions, avoid ‘buyer going overseas’ examples, and remember - a full service history is absolutely non - negotiable. Any money you save buying a car with problems, or an incomplete service history, will almost certainly end up costing you more. 

    As an aside, kilometres aren’t always the be all and end all - a country car with plenty of highway cars may well have less hours on the engine than a comparable city car, less short journeys whilst the engine is cold, and less gear changes (i.e. healthier clutch in a manual). Hence, ask what kind of driving the car has generally done.

    Tom Posted on 08 September 2012 3:59pm
  • Would it be unreasonable to ask a dealership for an oil sample from a used car. These can be turned around in a couple of days and the kits can be ordered over the internet.

    This might help pick up any major issues inside the engine that you can’t spot with the naked eye.

    Mo of Perth Posted on 05 September 2012 4:29pm
  • I recently purchased my vehicle at Manheim Government motor auctions at Moorebank. I purchased pre auction at a fixed price and found it to be a very easy process the staff were not pushy like some car dealers . I would definetly recommend to anyone who is in the market for a fairly new second hand car prices were not negotable but I found were resonable.

    Daniel Sheather of Sydney Posted on 01 September 2012 7:45pm
  • This information is helpful, but i feel that buyers should even be more aware of used car dealers, and make ask them ” What type of mechanical tests their mechanics do?” I have called a couple of used car dealers and they all say the same answer, that the car has been checked over by their mechanic, we don’t sell bad cars, just come in for a look. I have been to one that said that is has been checked and the oil level was very low and the oil cap had lots of white under the cap. I believe used car dealers should know more about their products when people call over the phone and don’t just say what ever it said on the internet. The check list you offer is good but you don’t get a good response from your questions to the sellers when you ask the used car dealers, the used car dealers usual answer with as i said before ” all our cars have been check by our mechanic, or what ever it says on the internet or just come in and have look.
    Still looking for a 4wd, happy car hunting.

    Cazza of South Coast NSW Posted on 13 July 2012 11:10pm
  • Yes indeed this information is really helpful for me.because i’m planning to to buy a used car.Regards Vamshi

    Vamshidhar Sankarapuram of Melbourne Posted on 13 July 2012 10:50am
  • disgusting the money hungry government charges a fee to do a vehicle finance owed check. its in their best interests. our best interests. wake up people. get ya head out ya dates. ya runnin this cuntry for us to serve us. get ya head out ya snatches and diss the fee. money dont mean . just do ya job n provide the service.. just do it. free service for all. BE ASHAMED

    dawn craker french of gawler Posted on 12 June 2012 9:21pm
  • Excelent advice for every one to buy a car. This imformation very accurate and help pople, do not know much about the car.I’m looking for to buy car the 10 tips are very helfull for me. Regars Charlie

    Charli Abdull of sydney Posted on 16 February 2012 6:31pm
  • In nsw you need the seller to provide a roadworthy certificate even if they have rego expiring in 6 months.

    maddie of tweed heads Posted on 03 February 2012 6:49pm
  • Also you run a story on how to purchase a car from a used or even brand new dealer, they lie and try to force you to sign a contract.

    gareth marsh of whyalla, south australia Posted on 03 November 2011 6:36pm
  • Interesting, I’m trying to sell my car and I’m getting alot of responses from people overseas saying they will send me money through Paypal and organise someone to come and collect - how do you know if these people are the real deal , is it worth the risk?
    Ed - No! They are most likely NOT the ‘real deal’ and it is definitely not worth the risk. Stick to people who can provide you with a phone number whom you can actually talk to. Visit our Safety Centre for more information.

    Kristy Thomas of Perth WA Posted on 06 September 2011 11:22am
  • I have a SAAB 9000 and a VT Commodore. In the 5 years I have had the Commodore (Now on 290,000kms), 0 breakdowns and 30 bucks to service. The SAAB has broken down 5 times in 10,000kms (Car only has 96,000kms on it). My Friends all drive mercedes because thier rich parents pay to repair them. I will take aussie any day.

    OZZZZZIE of VIC Posted on 09 June 2011 10:36am
  • Some thing I’m going to add
    When looking at buying a new car check the cost of servicing, as a lot of new cars with diesel engines are using oil that costs around $20per litre so even know you may save on fuel your servicing is going to cost more.
    I?m a mechanic 15 years in the trade and I would not even buy a new car. The more electronic garbage that is in a car the more its going to cost you, if you think new cars are better than old ones your wrong. If you buy new cars sell them as soon as the warranty is up and buy another new one. If you can not afford to do this buy a car that?s pre 2003 as most cars of this age parts are available through aftermarket. As a mechanic I see things most people don?t. Don?t buy any car from Europe as there is no parts here and not enough info to repair these cars same goes for American cars.
    Buy an Aussie car or Jap car as they tend to be cheaper to repair and parts are in Australia. Be carful.  E.g. Holden Astra is European. Same as the ford ka,  a lot of new cars now run all blue wiring behind the dash every wire is blue, so 7 years down the track when you have a problem its going to be costly to fix as its going to take hrs to find a simple cut wire

    CHARGEROZ of queensland Posted on 09 April 2011 5:48pm
  • Just had a scammer attempt to have me send $1250 to them via Western Union to the UK. Be very wary of any correspondence that attempts to have you pay any money as a seller. Simply do not let yourself be conned. If they are genuine buyers they will want to see/test drive/mechanically inspect your vehicle, anybody else is just not the real thing.

    Paul Trinder of Brisbane Posted on 17 March 2011 9:05pm
  • Bought Australian for our last car - replacing a 10 year old Volvo with a 3 year old Commodore. Really feel that we traded down - less features, less safety, worse fuel economy. Only upside is we could buy it outright (new model came out) and repairs/servicing can be done by any bloke called Gazza or Merv in their backyard. If you can afford it, buy European or Japanese (make sure actually built there though - VW make a lot in Mexico, Mazda and Honda make a lot in Thailand), but expect more for insurance, more for servicing, more for everything. But get a lot more (and better quality) car. Please, Australian government, reduce the import duties and the ridiculous taxes on quality overseas products that make us buy a locally inferior product.

    Mark Johnson of Adelaide Posted on 15 March 2011 10:58pm
  • A shopping trolley from Coles is pretty cheap to maintain and handles well.

    Terence of Melbourne Posted on 07 December 2010 3:56pm
  • Buy japanese for a first car, more reliable, cheaper to ensure, safer, and cheaper to run.
    The only real Australian made car is a Commodore, yes parts may be cheap but try comparing insurance, rego ad weekly fuel prices to a decent jap 4 cyl.
    This is just what I have found after my research

    Justin of Sydney Posted on 01 December 2010 4:41pm
  • Paul of Sydney- Thats because it is made in Thailand, not in Australia. Only the Holden Commodore is made here (and soon to be a new smaller car)

    Dale of Central Vic Posted on 14 September 2010 2:51pm
  • About Australian cars parts are cheaper… not true… I think more expensive! I’ve got a Holden Rodeo and parts are more expensive than my wife’s Japanese Corolla. Why?

    Paul of Sydney Posted on 06 August 2010 4:34am
  • What 2 to 3 year old used Australia Made small to medium car can I buy? Preferably with a 2.0L engine or smaller.

    Tommy of Melbourne Posted on 18 February 2010 12:59pm
  • Australian cars are much cheaper to buy, get parts for and service, also they are built for our roads and climate, ie suspension, air con, headlights etc.
    Any one who says you wont need parts for a Japanese car has no idea what they are talking about,

    Aaron, employee of unnamed Toyota dealership Posted on 18 January 2010 6:58pm
  • I wanna know how true it is to say that Australian made cars are cheaper to maintain. It sounds like common sence but are there any exeptions to the rule with certain makes or models.

    Ashton Grist Posted on 09 January 2010 8:31pm
  • Any franchise dealer like us at Hunter Holden Ryde will always value its reputation far more then a quick buck..Thats why We and just about all other Franchise dealer’s guarantee Free title, That the vehicle has never been in any major accident’s etc etc.Most of the time its not so much what you buy its who your buying it from. Dealers are and always will be your safest bet.We love our customers arranging mechanical inspection’s they love it when they hear how good our car’s are from an independant inspector.

    Hunter Holden of Ryde Posted on 21 September 2009 3:05pm
  • Why do people get so upset, soon as you suggest buying australian and supporting our local motor industry? What ever car people get, it will need servicing. Most people will be buying an older (10 years old maybe?) car as their first. My point is only that, the locally made cars after 10 years or so will be much easier to get spares and consumable parts for than the imports. Cheaper parts which are more available, must mean lower premiums too.
    Happy motoring.

    Dave Posted on 27 March 2009 9:46am
  • when looking for finance don’t compare rates, compare repayments! often someone will offer a low rate but with fees and charges you can pay more!

    ben o'toole Posted on 26 March 2009 3:30pm
  • Dave, you yokel - the point is that if you buy Australian you will NEED the parts.

    Holden Caulfield Posted on 26 March 2009 2:27pm
  • 2 suggestions:
    1. NEVER BUY AUSTRALIAN, BUY JAPANESE. Much more reliable with less repair problems.
    2. Always check the service history.

    Gary of Sydney Posted on 25 March 2009 11:33am
  • Only have 2 suggestions:
    1 Buy Australian, it will be easier to get parts for.
    2. contact your insurance company with details of the car. Find out what they will insure it for. Make that your strating point for working out a price. dont pay more for a car than you can get it insured for.

    Dave Posted on 23 March 2009 12:29pm
Read all 52 comments

Add your comment on this story

Indicates required

We welcome your comments on this story. Comments are submitted for possible publication on the condition that they may be edited. Please provide your full name. We also require a working email address - not for publication, but for verification. The location field is optional.

Share your feedback