How to get the best deal on a used car

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If you buy a new car you lose money almost immediately, through depreciation. Purchasing a second-hand car is probably a better bet, but how can you avoid being sold a lemon? Here are the key things to keep in mind when you buy a used car:

Decide on your budget
The amount you wish to spend on a car will determine what type of car you can afford. Think in advance about whether you can pay cash up front, or if you need to arrange finance. That way, if you find the car you want, you will be ready to make an offer.

Do your research
Australia is a vast country so starting your research online narrows the field, arming you with a lot more knowledge from the outset.

Is there a best time of year, or week to buy a car?
The end of the financial year (30 June) is a good time to buy a car. There is also a case for ‘New Year, new car’, as there are usually New-Year clearances in February. In terms of which day, it seems that Saturday and Sunday are the best days on which to purchase a vehicle. Overall, it is best to buy a car when lots of other people are doing the same thing, as this keeps prices competitive.

So you think you’ve found the right car?
Once you have chosen a specific car, for a small fee ($36.95) you can perform a search on to learn about the car’s history (including service history). All you have to know is 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 is a good idea to visit a few auctions first 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).

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

  • if the car is a stolen

  • whether it is on the written-off vehicle register, and

  • if it has any outstanding finance on it (for which you may become liable if you buy it without checking).

Buying a car unseen is risky
You can spot major issues by inspecting a car before you agree to buy. 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 the body for any rust. It is a good idea to 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 for transferring the registration of a car from one owner to another. This varies from state to state. For a private sale this costs between $31 and $36.50. If a car exchanges hands via a dealer, it costs between $18.50–$22. The amount of stamp duty, which is paid to the Government when a car is bought, also varies from state to state. It is calculated on a percentage scale, depending on the value of the car. Stamp duty is already included in the price when you buy from a dealer. With a private sale you will pay stamp duty when you register as the owner.

Negotiate, negotiate and negotiate
You don’t have to 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 of the keys

  • service books, including the owner’s manual/log book

  • any alarm instructions

  • location of hidden ignition number

  • radio security number.

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Total Comments: 6
  1. 0

    We have bought a second hand car through a car broker after recommendations from a friend who always uses a car broker. We did our research first to find those cars which met our requirements. The broker will keep searching and bringing cars for us to try until we find a suitable one. They safeguard the seller as well as the buyer, have the car serviced and any minor repairs done and give a time-limited guarantee. The brokers staff are all experienced in the car industry and work to clear ethical guidelines. We were really happy with our experience with the broker.

  2. 0

    I have always bought used cars, all the duds I ever got was when other people helped me, the best cars when I have done my own research or checks. I tend to do more checks and research when I have no help, trusting other’s does not work for me. I have bought privately and through a dealer. Privately is always a risk unless you pay for an RACV check. I got my last car from a dealer who brought the car to me from the city to my home over an hour away to view, and brought it back to buy once I asked for a couple of things to be fixed. I have had it for 2 years without a hiccup. Recommendations for a good dealer is important. There is a lot of competition out there and I found some dealers just not helpful enough. Bayford in Melbourne went out of their way to help and I feel I got a good deal.

  3. 0

    The most important things when buying a second hand car are:
    1. Distance travelled, kms on the odometer. The age of a car is the amount of use it’s had. Much more important than physical age. If you want reliable bargain, look for an older car with low kms. Less than 80,000.
    Second is the overall condition. Try to look past the professional detailing, under the bonnet, seats, general interior look. Stand back and look. Does it look well cared for, or is it just shiny from a good detailing? Not hard to pick if you look dispassionately.
    Third. Look at the tyres. Do they look good? Even wear without bumps.

    Simple tips that will get you a good car even though you know little about cars, but are observant.

    • 0

      From my experience it’s better to buy a newer model with more km on the clock than an older one with low kms. It’s not so much the use but the time factor leads to deterioration. Like our body, use it or loose it.

  4. 0

    lol – most “older” cars have low kms – majority of people know how to “turn back” the speedo’s….. probably couldn’t sell half of them otherwise ….. 🙂

  5. 0

    If you have it checked by a professional company that does that, request that the crawl under the vehicle and make sure no mountings, bolts are damaged – including those that hold seats in place…including cars in used car yards that also run their own insurance company. Some also don’t do a compression test on the motor. Get somebody with mechanical knowledge to give you a list to get the professional company to examine. If the car yard tries to discourage from having the car inspected walk away. If the car has already had one ask to see copy of it and insist a copy of one if you buiy the vehicle



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