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Tips for buying a used car

When you’re in the market for a used car, the options that are available can be overwhelming. Is it possible to find a reliable and safe used car in your budget without getting stung with a lemon?

The good news is that it is possible to find and purchase a safe and reliable used car if your prepared to be patient and do a little bit of research- I am hoping this little article will act as a starting point in your quest to find a vehicle.

This information is by no way exhaustive and you will need to also take into consideration your personal situation when deciding to purchase a car.


Set yourself a budget and stick to it.

It is so easy to fall in love with a car and be lenient when it comes to your budget and negotiating a price. I for one am horrible for it, if I like something all reasoning seems to go out the window and I am suddenly willing to pay whatever amount. NOT YOU, you will be sensible and reasonable when it comes to setting a budget and sticking to it. A car costs so much more then the initial price of the car, there is the loan repayments, insurance, servicing, tyres, maintenance, and fuel.

This is an easy chart you can use to add up the total cost of owning a car.

When you find a car you like, do not be afraid to ring your mechanic or find a trusted mechanic and ask them what the cost of servicing would be. They might also be able to give you an indication of maintenance and tyre costs as well.


I absolutely can not stress this too you enough. DO NOT trust your Dad’s best friends, brothers, daughter on what model car is reliable and issue free. Working in a mechanics workshop, I have seen customers buying cars based on good people giving out bad advice and it has not ended very well at all. Google, google and google some more. Search the make, model, year, and engine type of the car you have your eye on.

Some cars are notorious for failed transmissions, weak timing chains and poor designs that have cost consumers thousands to rectify. Depending on where you purchase your car, privately or dealer, you may not have any rights if you were to buy a lemon, the cost to fix it will fall solely on you.

Once again, this is a good time to give a trusted mechanic a call. We often get phone calls from customers asking for advice on a certain model of cars and we are all too happy to tell them what we know. If a certain model of car is known for huge issues, chances are your mechanic has seen it, possibly more than once- They are a valuable source of information and if they don’t think you should be buying the car your looking at they will tell you. Unfortunately, you won’t get that honesty from the person trying to sell you the car.


If you have your eye on a certain model, for example, a Toyota Corolla 2015 model with around 60,000 km’s on it is for sale for $7,500, bargain, right?? Jump on a website like and compare the price of all other 2015 Toyota Corollas with around 60,000 km’s on them. Why is the one you like only $7,500 when all the other Corolla’s listed for sale $14-18,000? You would really have to be reassured by the seller that they have a genuine reason for selling their Corolla WAY below market value, if not, I could only assume that there is something wrong with the car.

Whether you have decided to buy a car privately or from a used car dealer, make sure you familiarise yourself with your states legislation around used car purchases. They vary from state to state and they may help you decide whether to buy privately or not.

For more detailed information head over to:


The very first thing to do is to do a good background check on the car using the vehicles VIN (vehicle identification number) and registration details. Using your states database (i.e VIC ROADS if in Victoria) you can do a number plate check to make sure the car is not listed as stolen or written off (salvage). You can also use the registration database to obtain the VIN and use this to make sure the car has no existing finance attached to it. Use the Properties Securities Register (PPSR), there is a small fee when accessing this information, but it is well worth it if you are buying your car privately.

While checking out the vehicles information, make sure that the details of the vehicle are consistent across all databases- is the colour of the car or year of the vehicle match the sellers description? Inconsistencies in important details are concerning and it is probably a vehicle you should avoid.

Here is a used car checklist that can be printed and used as a guide when inspecting any used car- whether at a dealer or private sale.

Even if you’re not a car expert, it is important to have a good look over the car yourself and if the car passes your own inspection I recommend to have an independent mechanic or workshop conduct a more thorough inspection. It is definitely worth paying a small fee for professional advice from:

· The RACV’s independent vehicle inspection service.

· A trusted qualified mechanic.

· A member of an automotive association such as the Motors Trading Association (MTA) or the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce (VACC).

If a private seller or used car dealer is reluctant to let an independent mechanic to look over the vehicle, then that is a big red flag and you should walk away from the deal.

Do not be afraid to ask questions about the vehicles’ history:

· How many previous owners?

· Has the vehicle ever been involved in a crash?

· How much does it cost to fill the tank with fuel?

Have a pre-prepared list of questions you would like to ask the seller whilst inspecting the car. Having the questions written down means you wont forget to ask anything.



Given that everything checks out, there is often a little bit of a gap between the asking price of a vehicle and the price a seller is willing to sell it for. So now is the time to put your negotiating cap on and try and save yourself some money.

If you have used the “used-car” checklist provided, then point out all the flaws you noted, or the items that did not quite meet your standards. This is a good first place to start your negotiations, by pointing out the vehicles flaws and noting how much it will cost to fix them. Then negotiate this amount off the total price of the car. If there are no flaws then still offer a lower amount- there are no rules when it comes to negotiating, offer low, but not low enough that it might offend the seller. The seller can only accept, say no or re-negotiate.


Now to the business end of the trade, the paperwork. Make sure the seller has all the paperwork and service history of the car in order and you make sure you read it all, even the fine print. It is important to make sure that all the details in the paperwork match the seller, don’t be afraid to ask for ID to check details, this is a big purchase, even at this point of the sale you need to stay vigilant.

Whether you are paying the full amount for a vehicle or just a deposit makes sure you get a receipt and be sure the receipt lists:

-Sellers details-

If a used car dealer then:

-Business Name, ABN and LMCT, date, amount of purchase or deposit, sellers name and contact details.

If a private sale then:

-Sellers full name, address, contact details, date, time and purchase or deposit amount.

Always get original copies of the paperwork, never photocopies.

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