How to buy a used car

Lockdowns, travel restrictions and an out-of-control housing market have meant some properties are being snapped up sight unseen. But you wouldn’t do that if you were buying a used car. Would you? Even though used cars are in huge demand because new vehicle imports are super slow because of … you guessed it, COVID.

Australians love their vehicles and hanging up the car keys for the final time is a pivotal and often painful passage for older Aussies. But so can buying a used car.

Research undertaken by YouGov and commissioned by Autotrader, reveals that 50 per cent of Aussie drivers don’t consider themselves knowledgeable about cars and almost two-thirds (64 per cent) are uncomfortable with negotiating pricing.

How to overcome that? No. 1 – do your research.

Read: Common car questions answered

Build information and knowledge on what you’re looking to purchase, the value and history of that product. Enlist the support of anyone who has more knowledge than you.

Once you have chosen a specific car, for a small fee ($36.95) you can do a search on to learn about the car’s history, including service history. You need to know the state where the car is kept and its registration number. If it has been serviced regularly, it is less likely to suffer mechanical problems in future. This website also offers a price comparison report to allow you to check if the car is being sold for the right amount.

Private seller, dealer or auction?

There are pros and cons to each. With a dealer/auction you will not have to handle the paperwork (such as roadworthy certificates and warranties). You could save as much as 30 per cent by buying a car at auction, but it’s a fast environment and it’s a good idea to visit a few auctions before bidding. You can look at the car-valuation service provided by Cars Guide to see the price range for the model you want to buy (from the cheapest to the most expensive).

Read: Are you really a good driver?

By purchasing from a private seller you may get a better deal. However, you will have less legal protection. If this is your chosen route, a mechanical inspection of the car before you buy is important. If you check the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) website, you can also find out:

  • if the car is stolen
  • whether it is on the written-off vehicle register
  • if there is outstanding finance on it (for which you may become liable).


Take someone else with you to look at the car, preferably a car mechanic or someone who has experience in buying second-hand cars. A second opinion is invaluable.

View the car in daylight and ideally on a dry day. Check underneath the bonnet to see if there is an oil leak, and check the body for rust. Take the car for a test drive – that way you can find out about any immediate faults.

Don’t forget registration, transfer costs and stamp duty

There is a nominal fee, which varies from state to state, for transferring the registration of a car from one owner to another. The amount of stamp duty, which is paid to the government when a car is bought, also varies from state to state.

Read: Is premium fuel worth the money?

Negotiate, negotiate and negotiate

Don’t accept the starting price for a second-hand car. Providing you have inspected the car, you can point out any faults in order to bring the price down.

Before you drive away

This final list may seem obvious but remember to collect the following before you leave the dealer/seller/auction house:

  • all the keys
  • service books, including the owner’s manual/log book
  • any alarm instructions
  • location of hidden ignition number
  • radio security number.

What’s your best advice when buying a used car? Are you a confident negotiator? Why not share your experiences in the comments section below?

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YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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