Your Guide to Buying a Second-Hand Car

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So you’re sick of Ubers and the train timetable and have settled on buying a cheap second-hand car. All is well until you discover the seller wasn’t telling the whole truth about it … and you’ve bought a lemon. Thankfully, a few easy steps can help you avoid this outcome. 

Finding a Great Used Car 

Forget the old days of classifieds in the paper. You’ll find heaps of cars for sale on Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Carsales, Carsguide and other online marketplaces that make it easy to see all the options nearby to you, and message the sellers directly. 

But with nearly 200,000 used cars currently for sale in Australia, finding a great buy among all the options isn’t easy. 

Basically, you want to look for the best and safest car for your budget. You might have something special in mind, but if you’re just looking for a car – use the search function to set a spending cap, and filter by year made and lowest kilometres. It’s hard to go wrong that way. 

Keep in mind that older cars tend to be less safe, have fewer airbags and often use more fuel as well.  

Inspecting and Test Driving the Car 

It’s not a great idea to buy a car sight-unseen. Sketchy photos can conceal damage and poor maintenance, so make sure to try before you buy. If you like, you can find a friend that knows about cars and ask them to go with you, but it’s also simple enough to do yourself. 

Make sure you note any damage you see on the car, and ask to see the maintenance history. You need evidence that the car has been serviced regularly. Don’t buy a bomb that hasn’t seen a mechanic (or a car wash) for years. It might be cheap but it will cost you in the long run. 

Ensure you take a test drive, even if this can be a bit daunting in somebody else’s car. Check that the engine runs smoothly, that the car shifts into drive and reverse cleanly, and run it up and down through the gears – if it’s clunky or weird, walk away. It should steer straight and the suspension shouldn’t be making any untoward noises or bumps. 

If you reckon the car is a pretty good buy, it always pays to get a mechanic to check it out. This is something that the NRMA, RACQ, RACV and other auto clubs organise every day. It costs $150-350 but you then get an expert check of whether the car is in good shape. 

Checking Whether There Are Any Unpaid Loans on the Car 

Never agree to buy a second-hand car without checking that there are no unpaid loans on the vehicle. If there are, you can get tangled up in an ugly mess that should be the seller’s job to fix, not yours.  

What you need is called a PPSR check, and this can be done online at low cost (a few bucks) or even free from some providers, including the Budget Direct Free PPSR Car History Check. But make sure the provider you use isn’t a scam website. 

You’ll be sent a PDF document by email that tells you whether the car has ever been written off (also important!) and whether there are any loans unpaid on the car. 

Make sure this document is clean before you hand over any cash. 

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