Everything you need to know about buying a secondhand car

Know what you're looking for when you plan on purchasing a secondhand car.
Know what you're looking for when you plan on purchasing a secondhand car. AAP

SO YOU'VE decided a second-hand car is the thing for you, and you're setting out to buy your new set of wheels.

But with so many lemons out there, how do you pick the best fruit from the tree?

There are a number of ways you can safeguard yourself to make sure you're getting the best deal on the best car that suits your needs.

Here are 10 of the top tips for buying a second-hand car safely.

>> Check out cars for sale in the region 

Decide what you want

Research is your first port of call, especially if you are buying your first vehicle.

Will you be doing a lot of long distance driving, going off-road or just for trips to the shops?

Also, think ahead. If you're planning on keeping your car for the next 10 years then think of what your life might involve in that time.

Will you have a family by then, or start a love affair with camping?

Are you a manual lover or auto fan?

Do you need seat lift or extra leg room?

The benefit of narrowing down your selection criteria to no more than three models of car is that you can understand those cars in detail, know what to look for in them and know when to pounce when you catch a good deal.

Think about repair costs

What will your car cost to fix if it breaks down?

Fancy cars like BMWs and Audis might look tempting when you can get them at a much cheaper than new price, but it's often because the cost to repair or service "luxury" makes far outweighs the savings made in their purchase.

Some say European models don't handle Australian conditions as well, and can tend to break down more easily.

For these reasons, a more run-of-the-mill car brand is sometimes considered cheaper in the long-run.

One must-do is to make sure you Google reviews for the particular car you're looking into.

Reviews written by consumers will tell you a lot about the long-term risks that could be involved in a particular car.

If two reviews out of 10 are negative you might still want to consider that make and model, but if there is an endless chain of bad reviews, especially reporting the same faults, run.

Think safety

If safety ratings matter, then you will want to check out websites like

Some safety buffs say you shouldn't touch a car unless it has side airbags and electronic stability control, but others say you shouldn't worry.

A good rule is to buy a car with a four or five star safety rating, but you need to keep a close eye on year models because as time goes by safety rules get stricter.

Hence a car that held a five-star safety rating in 2005 might only be considered worthy of four stars now. 

As a general rule, lighter and brighter coloured cars are considered safer, putting white, yellow and red at the top of the list and silver, grey and black at the bottom.

Lighter coloured cars also reflect more heat.

Do a history check

Tread very carefully if a car doesn't have a complete service history.

The owner or owners should have a log book showing that the car has been kept up-to-date with both minor and major services.

Ask to see this when first inspecting the car.

If the owner says they have done their own servicing then it's down to their word - they might have kept it up to date, but they might not have.

If a seller refuses to let you see the log book till after you have "paid a deposit" or is otherwise shady about it, then walk away.

Another good idea is to note down the mechanic who did the last major service and give them a call - sometimes a seller might have a major service done but ask that certain parts of the car don't get replaced to save money.

A full check of the car's history in terms of any previous crashes or finance owing can be obtained by purchasing a history report.

If you buy a car and don't know it still has money owing to a bank then you can be left paying off someone else's debt.

Websites like Carsales and Car History offer background checks for around the $30 mark at or

These checks will also warn you if any flood damage has been recorded and if the car has ever been stolen. 

Know your values

Unsure whether you're getting a good deal or getting ripped off?

Research current market values for cars so you know what to pay.

Websites like are handy because you can enter in the specific model and year to figure out if the price being asked is acceptable or if you should ask the seller to lower their price.

And remember - the cheaper your car's value the cheaper comprehensive insurance will be.

However, your insurance bills will still reflect the actual value of your car, so if you buy a second-hand car currently valued at $20,000 for $8000, you'll still pay insurance for a $20,000 car unless you specify a different agreed amount with your insurer.

Don't be pressured

Many sellers are courteous, friendly and helpful.

But don't be cornered by heavy-hitting salespeople or owners who assume you're going to purchase a car just because you took it for a test run.

Remember, it's your investment and it's up to you what you buy.

Some salespeople will do anything to stop you going away and thinking about the purchase, but it's wise to take a breather before any big investment, especially one you'll be dealing with on a daily basis for a very long time.

Get an independent assessment

Before you buy any car, have an independent or RACQ mechanic check it over.

Full checks can cost around $200, but it's worth it to make sure you're getting a car that is mechanically sound and won't break down a month after you've bought it.

Most car owners are all too happy to have you carry out this kind of check and some will even drop the car off to be checked, while some prefer a mechanic to come to their home.

If a seller is unhappy about you getting a car checked or reluctant to co-operate, it might be time to move on to another set of wheels.

Watch those kilometres

Keep an eye on the kilometres on a car.

A very high number of kilometres could hint at a previous company car or even a refurbished taxi, in which case the wear and tear on the car will be more significant.

Of course, the number of kilometres that have been clocked up also depends on the age of the car.

Also be mindful that most cars are due for their major service around the 150k mark, so it's important to ask the seller whether this has already been carried out or if it's something you will need to take on board.

If you're buying a much older car then expect higher kilometres, but if you are looking at a fairly recent model, it's better to aim for vehicles with less than 200k under their belt.

Regardless of age, you will generally pay more for a car with low kilometres, and less for one that has clocked up more.

Where has the car been?

Think about previous owners and how they might have treated the car.

A car driven quietly up and down the street by an old couple might have less wear and tear than a car driven by someone going at a more frantic pace.

The more owners a car has had, the lower the price will tend to be.

Some say one to two previous owners is an acceptable history.

Get your finance sorted first

It's easier, more convenient and faster to buy if your finance is already sorted.

If you come across a beauty of a car and several other buyers want it as well, sellers will love you if you tell them you can pay up right away.

Of course, if you're using your own savings you know how much you can spend, but if you are taking out a loan, it's best to do it beforehand so you know exactly how much you can borrow.

Of your car-spending budget, it's wise to remember you'll want to keep a little bit aside for kick-starting your rego and insurance.

Topics:  cars

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