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Used car buying tips

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Updated 10 Oct 2019

Bill Tsouvalas

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If you’re buying a used car, there’s no shortage of advice on offer from friends and family members, much of which could lead you down the garden path.

We’ve put together some tips from the experts so you can follow the best practices when it comes to buying a used car.

Work Out Your Needs and Budget

Most used car buyers are looking for a car that won’t cost too much, but will still give them enough practical benefits for their price point.

So ask yourself, ‘What will I need the car for?’

This works out the basic vehicle models you will be looking for.

Once you’ve figured out your needs, decide your budget. This includes how much you can afford to spend on the car each month – monthly repayments for finance (see Savvy’s car loan calculator to work out your repayments), insurance, registration, fuel, and servicing.

Knowing your needs and budget, the next step is to do your homework by looking up cars that fit your criteria in RedBook or a trade magazine.

Balancing Price vs. Convenience

The two common avenues towards owning a used car are buying from a private seller or purchasing through a dealer.

A private seller has one aim in mind, and that’s selling the car for a good price. This means you will snap up a bargain if you work a little harder.

Dealers sell used cars at a premium price, however, you gain a guarantee that the cars they sell are roadworthy, un-financed, and street legal.

Some less scrupulous private sellers might sell you a stolen car or a write-off. If purchasing from a private seller, make sure you check the vehicle on the Personal Property Security Register before you buy.

Questions You Must Ask and the Answers You Want

Whether you’re buying privately or through a dealer, you need to ask a variety of questions. It’s best if you can organise an independent evaluator or knowledgeable friend on site to help.

Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Do you know if this car has had any major repairs? (If the seller doesn’t know, check the log books – more on that later)
  • How many kilometres has the car done? (The lower the better – low km's may attract a higher price)
  • Do the car's internals have any problems, such as the wiring or fuses? (It may cost more to replace if you inherit faulty electronics – you can check this during a test drive)
  • Is the car still registered? (It does cost more to re-register a car – think about the bottom line)
  • Why are you selling this car? (If the answer is, “because it doesn’t work” you know what to do!)
  • How many owners has the vehicle had? (The fewer the owners the better, to get a more complete history)
  • Can I take a test drive? (If they say no, walk away. A test drive will reveal more than your questions will – and you’ll get to check if the car is right for you)
  • Can I see the roadworthy certificate, log books and registration papers (If they don’t have these, walk away!)


: you should always test drive the car before making a decision. That way you can get a feel for how the car handles at various speeds, check the electronics and air conditioning, see if the brakes are working or worn and if the steering is aligned. It will save you a lot of frustration later on.

If you haven’t got a mechanically minded friend or family member to look at your potential car purchase, it’s advised that you have a mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection before spending your hard-earned cash.

Now, imagine a seamless segue here...

Right. AutoGuru lets you search, compare and book from over 1,600 qualified mechanics across Australia. Boom!

Image credit: Person in Grey Shirt Handing Keys - Negative Space

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Written By

Bill Tsouvalas

Bill Tsouvalas is the founder and managing director at Savvy finance. He has been working in the vehicle and asset finance business for over 8 years.

Bill also writes articles on car finance, chattel mortgage, insurance, consumer protection and insurance related topics.