• top tips

How to spot a lemon when buying a car

avatar image

Updated 11 Oct 2019

Clancy Harrip

Article Image

Buying a second-hand car is something almost everybody does at some point in their life and, when you do, the goal is to spend your hard-earned cash on something decent and not lumber yourself with a defect-riddled lemon.

Unfortunately, lemon cars are certainly out there, whether you’re looking to buy privately or through a dealership.

To avoid buying one, it’s important you don’t rush into a decision. Follow these steps to protect you from making a purchasing choice you’ll regret.


Do your research on the type of car you want and your budget.

Once you start actively searching for a vehicle, look for one that has low kilometres and has been well kept.

Be vigilant and ensure the car is currently registered, has CTP insurance and, as required, has a roadworthy certificate or pink slip.

Check For Recalls

When you know what make/model you want, check the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) product safety website for any recalls that may have affected the car in question.

From here, ask the seller for any recall service documentation and, if the recall work has not been performed, it should be actioned as a priority.

Conduct a Pre-Purchase Inspection

A pre-purchase inspection allows for a third-party expert to evaluate the condition of the used vehicle you are considering purchasing.

Pre-purchase inspections often include a full interior and external check as well as a road test and often a car history check.

Check the Vehicle's History

A vehicle’s history check is critical, and the report can alert you to odometer fraud, past damage and any money owing on the car (via a PPSR check).

Review the Exterior and Interior

It’s always important to review the car yourself.

Check by doing a walk around the car and look for any dents, mismatched body panels and check out the quality of the cabin.

Check to see if there is a sagging headliner, dashboard cracks, frayed seat belts or worn pedals (which may indicate the vehicle has very high mileage). 

Do a Road Test

Although a pre-purchase inspection will usually include a road test, it’s important that you take the car for a drive and monitor how it feels to you.

Take note of whether you can feel any shaking in the steering wheel, clunking, engine noises and overall smoothness of the drive.

As the person who will likely spent the most time behind the wheel, it’s crucial that the car feels good to you.

Purchasing a lemon car is something that can have a hugely negative impact on your life.

By ensuring you follow the above steps you are protecting yourself financially and, by avoiding a potentially dangerous vehicle, potentially making a life-saving decision.

avatar image

Written By

Clancy Harrip

Clancy has been working in, and writing about, the automotive industry for half her adult life.

She loves her work and all things automotive and looks forward to the day she is considered a guru on the subject, an auto guru perhaps.