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Car loans vs personal loans

Looking for car finance? Find out whether a personal loan or a car loan is best for you.

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Taking out finance in order to purchase a car is a common form of borrowing. The two most applied for types of financing to purchase cars are car loans and personal loans. While similar in some respects, car loans and personal loans are distinctly different forms of finance. So, it is important to work out which one can get you more value for money.

This guide will explain the differences between these two loan types. It also includes a calculator to help you work out exactly how much money you can save by opting for one over the other.

What’s the difference between a car loan and a personal loan?

The exact terms of your financing will depend on your chosen lender and product, but you can generally expect to find the following features with each type of loan.

Car loans

These are dedicated loans designed to cover only the cost of a car and related expenses such as licensing and registration. Most, but not all, are secured loans.

  • Interest rates. Rates will usually be more competitive if your loan is secured. If you choose dealership finance, your rate will be noticeably lower (around 2%) but you’ll generally have to pay a balloon payment.*
  • Security. Car loans use the vehicle you’re borrowing money for as collateral. This means you can access lower rates, but if you default on the loan, the lender may be able to claim the car.
  • Application. You need to supply more information, specifically about the vehicle, when you apply. This can include the make, model and VIN/Chassis number.
  • Restrictions. There are various restrictions with car loans. For example, you may not be able to buy a used car with the loan, depending on its age.

Personal loans

Personal loans are considerably more flexible. You can also shop around to find terms and conditions that may be preferable for you.

  • Use of funds. You can generally use the approved funds for any purpose you have, including purchasing a car. You can even use part of the loan amount to purchase the car and another part for a different purpose.
  • Unsecured. While car loans are typically secured, in that they use the car itself as collateral, unsecured personal loans do not require you to put up any collateral. While this reduces your risks, they generally come with higher rates.
  • Application. You need to list the purpose of the loan, but this can be quite general. For the purchase of a car, simply listing "large purchase" as a reason may be sufficient.

Essentially, you could think of car loans as “pre-made packages”, while personal loans are more flexible and can be tailored to your needs.

*What's a balloon payment?

    A balloon payment is made at the end of the loan term, and it is a single lump sum payment that pays off the rest of the loan. Balloon payments can be both advantageous (saving you money in interest) and disadvantageous (too hard on your budget), depending on your personal circumstances.

Which is better, a car loan or a personal loan?

Whether a car loan or a personal loan is better will depend on your personal situation. The pros and cons outlined above will affect different people differently.

For example, a personal loan might be better for you if you:

  • Are buying an older car that may not qualify as loan security
  • Decide that you want a bit of extra cash to use for another purpose
  • Have excellent credit and can secure a competitive personal loan

A car loan might be preferable if you:

  • Don't want to spend as much money over the life of the loan
  • Are looking to buy a new, or newer model of car
  • Haven't got a perfect credit history

Questions to ask yourself before submitting a loan application

If you're wondering what you should ask yourself before you click "submit" on that loan application, we've got a few handy tips that will help.

Are you expecting your financial situation to change?

If you’re anticipating a change in your financial situation in the near future, there’s a good chance a personal loan is preferable for you. An unsecured loan may carry less risk in an uncertain future and if you opt for variable rates, you’ll likely be able to take advantage of additional repayments without penalty.

Do you know what car you want to buy?

Pre-approval is generally only available with car loans. This means that if you want to shop for a car knowing how much you have to spend, you may want to opt for a car loan.

Are you buying a used car?

Buying used instead of new can be an effective way of saving money, but depending on the vehicle, you might not be able to find a car loan. So, you'll should possibly go for a personal loan instead. For example, some car loans will require the vehicle to be less than two years old, while personal loans will not have any such restrictions.

Do you have bad credit?

Bad credit car loans are available, but you’ll find more options with a bad credit personal loan.

Do you want to detail your car?

It can be costly to make modifications to your vehicle. Whether it’s just a new coat of paint or as extensive as changing the body of the car, many car lenders will not let you add this cost onto your loan. With a personal loan, you can borrow however much you like for different purposes. And you can add the cost of modifications onto the loan amount yourself.

At the end of the day, the most effective way to compare loans is by looking at specific options side by side. It can be a good idea to use a calculator to work out value for money more precisely.

Compare car loans and personal loans

For more information on any of these loans, simply click "More Info" to be taken to our review page. To apply for a loan, click "Go to site".

Data indicated here is updated regularly
$
Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comparison Rate (p.a.) Min Loan Amount Loan Term Application Fee Monthly Service Fee Monthly Repayment
IMB New Car Loan
4.99% (fixed)
5.34%
$2,000
1 to 7 years
$275.12 ($250 Application fee + $25.12 PPS registration fee)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate of 4.99% p.a.
A low minimum borrowing amount of $2,000 that you can use to purchase a new car or one that's up to two years old.
Loans.com.au - New and Dealer Used Car Loan
From 4.67% (fixed)
5.22%
$5,000
3 to 5 years
$400
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate from 4.67% p.a. based on your risk profile
Finance a new car and benefit from features such as fast approval, no ongoing fees and an optional balloon payment. Note: Settle the loan before 30 November 2020 and enter the draw to win a $1,000 fuel voucher. Terms & conditions apply.
Stratton Finance New Car Loan
From 4.05% (fixed)
5.63%
$10,000
3 to 7 years
$700
$8.25
You'll receive a fixed or variable rate depending on the lender you are approved with
Apply for up to $250,000 and use cash or trade in a vehicle to use as a deposit. Optional balloon payment available.
Heritage Bank Car Loan
4.89% (fixed)
5.53%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$200
$5
You'll receive a fixed rate from 4.89% p.a.
Finance a new or used car up to 5 years old. Large maximum borrowing amount up to $100,000 and terms up to 7 years.
Credit Concierge Car Loan
From 4.45% (fixed)
5.29%
$10,000
1 to 7 years
$350
$5
You'll receive a fixed rate of 4.45% p.a. with a comparison rate of 5.29% p.a.
Get access to over 20 providers to fund a new or used car.

CUA Secured Fixed Car Loan
6.79% (fixed)
7.16%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$265 ($175 Establishment Fee + $90 Security Administration Fee)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate of 6.79% p.a.
A secured loan with a high maximum borrowing amount up to $100,000. Redraw facility and no monthly fees.
NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Fixed
From 9.99% (fixed)
10.88%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$150
$10
You'll receive a fixed rate between 9.99% p.a. and 18.99% p.a. ( 10.88% p.a. to 19.83% p.a. comparison rate) based on your risk profile
An unsecured loan up to $55,000 you can use for a range of purposes and pay off over up to 7 years. Note: Majority of customers will get the headline rate of 12.69% (13.56% comparison rate) or less. See Comparison rate warning in (i) above.
Symple Loans Personal Loan
From 5.75% (variable)
6.47%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
from 0% to 5% of the loan amount
$10
You'll receive a personalised interest rate from 5.75% p.a. to 21.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
Borrow up to $50,000 to pay for what you need.
Driva Car Loan
From 4.34% (fixed)
5.5%
$2,000
1 to 7 years
$295 (Varies by lender, starting from $295)
$10
You'll receive a fixed rate from 4.34% p.a.
Borrow up to $250,000 with loan terms from 1 to 7 years. Get access to a range of lenders.
Plenti Car Loan
From 4.89% (fixed)
5.44%
$10,000
3 to 7 years
from $249 to $799
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate from 4.89% p.a.
Borrow up to $100,000 with a Plenti Car Loan and benefit from no early repayment or exit fees.
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Data indicated here is updated regularly
$
Name Product Interest Rate (p.a.) Comparison Rate (p.a.) Min Loan Amount Loan Term Application Fee Monthly Service Fee Monthly Repayment
Plenti Fixed Rate Personal Loan

From 6.49% (fixed)
6.84%
$2,001
3 to 5 years
From $149 to $599
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.49% p.a. and 11.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
A flexible loan with amounts from $2,001 and terms starting from 3 years. Interest and comparison rates calculated for a loan term of 5 years.
Harmoney Unsecured Personal Loan

From 6.99% (fixed)
7.79%
$2,000
3 to 5 years
$575 ($275 for loans of below $5,000)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.99% p.a. and 25.69% p.a. based on your risk profile.
Apply for a loan up to $50,000 and repay your loan over 3 or 5 year terms.
OurMoneyMarket Personal Loan

From 6.75% (fixed)
6.96%
$2,001
1 to 7 years
1.5–6% of your total loan amount
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate from 6.75% p.a. to 20.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
A personalised loan from $2,001 to $75,000 that varies based on your credit history and financial situation.
Alex Personal Loan

From 6.95% (fixed)
6.95%
$2,100
6 months to 5 years
$0 (waived $295)
$0
You'll receive a fixed interest rate from 6.95% p.a. to 19.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
Borrow between $2,100 and $30,000 from 6 months to 5 years. Benefit from no ongoing fees. Note: The establishment fee of $295 is waived for all applications until 31 October 2020. Terms & conditions apply.
SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan (5 years)

From 7.99% (fixed)
7.99%
$5,000
5 years
from 0% to 5% (capped at $995)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 7.99% p.a. and 20.49% p.a. based on your risk profile
A loan from $5,000 to use for a range of purposes. Benefit from no ongoing fees and no early repayment fee.
SocietyOne Unsecured Personal Loan (2-3 years)

From 6.99% (fixed)
6.99%
$5,000
2 to 3 years
from 0% to 5% (capped at $995)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.99% p.a. and 17.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
A loan from $5,000 to use for a range of purposes. Benefit from no ongoing fees and no early repayment fee.
Plenti Variable Rate Personal Loan

From 5.79% (variable)
6.78%
$2,001
1 to 3 years
From $149 to $599
$0
You'll receive a variable rate from 5.79% p.a and 11.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
A flexible loan with amounts from $2,001 and terms starting from 12 months. Benefit from transparent costs and a rate estimate before you apply.
NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Fixed

From 9.99% (fixed)
10.88%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$150
$10
You'll receive a fixed rate between 9.99% p.a. and 18.99% p.a. ( 10.88% p.a. to 19.83% p.a. comparison rate) based on your risk profile
An unsecured loan up to $55,000 you can use for a range of purposes and pay off over up to 7 years. Note: Majority of customers will get the headline rate of 12.69% p.a. (13.56% p.a. comparison rate) or less. See Comparison rate warning in (i) above.
Pepper Money No Fee Personal Loan

From 6.95% (fixed)
6.95%
$5,000
18 months to 7 years
$0
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 6.95% p.a. and 17.95% p.a. based on your risk profile
Borrow from $5,000 to $15,000 and use for a range of purposes. Pay no upfront, early repayment or ongoing fees.
Symple Loans Personal Loan

From 5.75% (variable)
6.47%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
from 0% to 5% of the loan amount
$10
You'll receive a personalised interest rate from 5.75% p.a. to 21.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
Borrow up to $50,000 to pay for what you need.
Wisr Personal Loan

From 7.95% (fixed)
8.78%
$5,000
3 to 5 years
$595 (Establishment Fee)
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate between 7.95% p.a. and 19.45% p.a. based on your risk profile
A loan from $5,000 that charges no fees for extra or early repayments. Keep in mind security is required in some cases.
Heritage Bank Fixed Personal Loan
7.99% (fixed)
8.62%
$5,000
1 to 5 years
$200
$5
Choose a fixed rate loan and receive a comparison rate of 8.62% p.a.
Fixed rate loans are available up to $100,000 on terms from 1 to 5 years.
CUA Unsecured Fixed Rate Personal Loan
9.89% (fixed)
10.14%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$175
$0
You'll receive a fixed rate of 9.89% p.a.
An unsecured loan from $5,000 with flexible repayments and no monthly fee.
MoneyMe Personal Loans

From 8.99% (fixed)
10.68%
$3,001
2 to 5 years
5 - 8% of the principal borrowed, capped at $1,200
$0
You'll receive an interest rate between 8.99% p.a. and 29.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
A flexible personal loan from MoneyMe with access to cash when you need it.
NAB Personal Loan Unsecured Variable Rate

From 9.99% (variable)
10.88%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$150
$10
You'll receive a variable rate between 9.99% p.a. and 18.99% p.a. ( 10.88% p.a. to 19.83% p.a. comparison rate) based on your risk profile
An unsecured loan up to $55,000 you can use for a range of purposes. Benefit from fee-free additional repayments and a redraw facility. Note: Majority of customers will get the headline rate of 12.69% p.a. (13.56% p.a. comparison rate) or less. See Comparison rate warning in (i) above.
CUA Unsecured Variable Personal Loan
11.89% (variable)
12.15%
$5,000
1 to 7 years
$175
$0
You'll receive a variable rate of 11.89% p.a.
Borrow from $5,000 with the option for flexible repayments and no monthly fees.
Heritage Bank Standard Variable Personal Loan
11.99% (variable)
12.61%
$5,000
1 to 10 years
$200
$5
Choose a variable rate loan and receive a 12.61% p.a. comparison rate
Variable rate loans are available from $5,000 - $100,000 on terms of 1 to 10 years.
Latitude Personal Loan (Unsecured)

From 7.99% (fixed)
9.24%
$3,000
1 to 7 years
$250 (Loans under $5000 - $140)
$13
You'll receive a fixed rate between 7.99% p.a. and 19.99% p.a. based on your risk profile
Apply for what you need from $3,000 and use it for a range of purposes. Repay weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
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Step-by-step guide to finding the right type of loan

You might try the following steps to find a loan that works for you. Note that everyone’s circumstances are different and these steps may be considered guidelines. First and foremost, you should always look at the full terms and conditions of each loan you're considering when questioning whether it's right for you. This is because not all car loans are alike, and the terms of personal loans can vary widely.

Compare both

If you are already certain whether a car loan or personal loan is right for you, then you can only compare those types of financing. If you’re unsure, it can be a good idea to compare both car and personal loans using the steps below.

  1. Head to finder.com.au to compare different loans and assemble a list of likely options.
  2. Go through the car loan and personal loan options in the table above
  3. Enter the interest rate, fees and terms into the calculator below to see which one is more affordable.
  4. Adjust the terms to see if you can save on either option.
  5. Decide which loan is more affordable.

What to remember

Remember that you have the freedom to compare options until you've found the right one for you, and that the first option you see might not necessarily be the best one for your circumstances. If you have found a car loan, or a personal loan that you wish to apply for on site, you can simply click "Go to Site" to find out more about how to apply.

Frequently asked questions about car loans vs personal loans

Here are some questions we have been asked about car loans and personal loans:

What should I know about used car loans?

Used car loans may carry higher interest rates to compensate for the reduced value of the vehicle over time, and there will be restrictions on the age of the car.

Can I use the loan for non-vehicle expenses?

Car loans are for cars only, while personal loans may be spent at your discretion. Consider the cost of car insurance, licensing and registration, fuel, maintenance, repairs and related costs as well as the price tag of the vehicle itself.

Will I need to provide details of the vehicle for a personal loan?

No. It’s standard practice for lenders to ask about the purpose of the personal loan, but no specific vehicle details will need to be supplied unless you apply for a car loan.
Image: Shutterstock

More guides on Finder

Car Loan Offers

Important Information*
Logo for IMB New Car Loan
IMB New Car Loan

You'll receive a fixed rate of 4.99% p.a.
A low minimum borrowing amount of $2,000 that you can use to purchase a new car or one up to two years old.

Logo for Beyond Bank Low Rate Car Loan "Special Offer"
Beyond Bank Low Rate Car Loan "Special Offer"

You'll receive a fixed rate of 4.89% p.a.
Take advantage of a competitive rate, pre-approval and no early repayment fees when you finance a car under two years old.

Logo for RACV New Car Loans
RACV New Car Loans

You'll receive a fixed rate from 4.99% p.a.
A larger loan of $5,000 or more to help you buy a new or used car. 5-hour pre approval available and no ongoing fees.

Logo for NRMA New Car Loan
NRMA New Car Loan

You'll receive a fixed rate of 4.99% p.a.
Purchase a new or used car up to 2 years old and benefit from a fixed rate and no monthly fees. Pre-approval available within 5 business hours.

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