Used Car Buying Guide

Buying a Used Car

Our inside tips on avoiding the highway to hell

man doing financial paperwork

Step 1 - Do your research

Before looking for used cars, decide on your maximum budget - and make sure you stick to it.

Go online and see what’s out there for your price range. Make a shortlist and start checking seller reviews online.

black car door

Step 2 - External inspection

Once you’ve decided which car(s) to check out, it’s time to conduct an external inspection. You should do this regardless of whether the car is being sold privately or through a dealer.

Walk around the outside of the car and check:

  • Corners of bodywork for scratches
  • Panels for dents
  • Tyres for tread on inside and outside edges
  • Headlights and tail lights for cracks
  • Windows for chips

Walk around a second time and double check everything.

Pro Tip: If possible, inspect the car outdoors (rather than in a showroom), under the sun. This makes it easier to see dents and scratches.
car interior

Step 3 - Internal inspection

Open up the doors and boot and check:

  • General condition of the car - it should be clean and tidy
  • Switches and knobs on dash/console are present and working
  • Electrics are working - including stereo
  • Seat belts work
  • Kilometres on odometer match the seller’s claims
  • Upholstery for rips
  • Back seat pockets - often they get ripped easily
  • Spare tyre and jack/tool kit are in the boot
  • Service log book - have there been regular services? And if so, by the same mechanic?

Pro Tip: The internal inspection gives you an indication of whether the car’s been well cared for. If the interior looks neglected, it probably hasn’t been serviced regularly either.

man inspecting under bonnet

Step 4 - Under bonnet inspection

  • Pop the hood and see what condition the engine is in. Look out for:
  • Oil or water splatters - this can indicate leakages
  • Engine cleanliness. A clean engine shows the car has been well-maintained.
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) - note it down so you can run a security check on the car
  • Oil colour - the darker it is, the longer it’s been since service
  • Fluid levels - water and coolant

Pro Tip: You don’t need to be mechanically-minded - just look for obvious signs of trouble. But if you do know someone who’s good with cars, bring them along!

man test driving car

Step 5 - Test drive

Now it’s time for the fun part!

Take it for a spin along a test drive route that includes a 50-60km zone AND a 100km+ zone (like a freeway or highway). The car needs to perform well at all speeds.

hands shaking car

Step 6 - Do a deal

Time to negotiate a price! Consider:

How the price compares with other cars you researched What’s included? Many dealers include extras like warranties and roadside assist in the price. Is it an on-road price - i.e. does it include charges like stamp duty and registration? Does the price include delivery, or will you have to come back and pick it up?

Don’t be scared to drive down the price if you think it’s inflated.

Pro tip: if the dealer includes a warranty, be mindful there may be conditions (such as the car needing to be serviced at the dealership you bought it from). There are no warranties on private sales.

woman signing forms

Step 7 - Sign the paperwork

So you’ve got yourself a deal - great work! But before you sign anything, check:

  • The the seller is the registered owner. Check that the name on the registration documents matches the seller’s driver’s licence.
  • The Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) to ensure the car hasn’t been:
  • Written off
  • Stolen
  • Advertised by the seller with money still owing on it

Pro Tip: If paying by direct debit or bank transfer, ask to see a copy of the seller’s bank statement. Again, make sure it’s in the seller’s name.

cars driving on highway

Step 8 - Drive away!

Talk to your insurer and make sure you’re covered from the instant you take possession. Congratulations - and happy cruising!

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Frequently Asked Questions