Here are a few things you should know if you’re thinking of buying a used car.
This might be your first car or it might be your fifth, but it never hurts to have a checklist before you start shopping regardless of your past experience.
Before you go for a test drive or even before you start looking at financing options, read our handy guide and checklist so you know what to keep in mind at each stage of the purchase process.
Buying a used car: What you need to know
Used cars are vehicles that are pre-owned and bought from a dealership or private seller. The conditions of used cars vary greatly, as they may be in almost-new condition or they may be nearing the end of their life. A benefit of opting for a used car is that they are generally cheaper than buying new, and you can sometimes find a good deal for a pre-owned car in great condition.
Of course, there are risks that come with buying a car that someone else has owned. Problems with cars may not be immediately obvious, and the owner may be unaware that a problem even exists.
So before you buy your used car, you should do some research on the make, model and year of the vehicle and also know what questions to ask the owner. We’ll cover all of this in the guide and checklist below.
Used car financing options
If you’re looking to finance your used car purchase, you have a few options available to you. Here are the financing options available for used vehicles:
- Secured loan. While some lenders will not approve a secured loan for a used vehicle, other lenders offer loans specifically for used vehicles if they meet certain requirements. These loan types require you to put up your newly-purchased car as security, but in return these loans generally have lower interest rates.
- Unsecured loan. If you are unable to find a secured loan, you might want to take a look at your unsecured personal loan options. You don’t have to use your car as security for these loans, but you may find that the interest rates are higher because it is more of a risk for the lender. One of the benefits with a secured loan is that you are able to use the loan amount in any way you want, so you can use it to purchase the vehicle and also for something else if you choose.
- Dealer finance. If you are buying the vehicle from a used car dealership then they may be able to offer you some financing options. However, be sure to do your research on your other loan options before you sign up for dealer finance, as the interest rate may not be as competitive.
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Where to find a used car
One of the benefits of getting a used car is that there are plenty of places where you can go to find one. There are advantages and drawbacks to each option, so make sure you choose the one that sounds right for you:
- Online. Online dealers operate used car websites where you can browse what’s available. You can find both licensed dealers and private sellers on these sites, so you can go with the seller who sounds best to you.
- Trading and selling forums and websites. There are also sites or forums where people try to sell their own cars and where you might be able to pick up a bargain. With a private car sale, there is no warranty and no cooling-off period that a licensed dealer can offer, plus it is difficult to determine the seller's reputability.
- In the paper. Newspapers still have sections where people sell or trade, some with dedicated sites and magazine lift-outs where you can find listings for used vehicles. Again, these are private sellers so it's important to be more careful with your purchase.
- Used car dealerships. If you would prefer to take a look at the cars themselves, you can visit one of the many used car dealerships where you can haggle in person. The benefits of working with a licensed dealer are that the car is often sold with a warranty, there is a cooling-off period and you may find the process easier as the seller will be experienced with used car sales terms.
What you should do when looking to buy a pre-owned vehicle
Whether you're looking to buy a pre-owned or new vehicle, it can be tempting to buy the first car that you like. But a car is a large ongoing expenditure, and it’s important to consider your options before making your final purchase.
Before you start looking for your car you need to decide what you want. Do you want a big car because you need a lot of boot space, or do you want a small car to make it easy to park in the city? You should think about the car's main use and then decide how many seats you want, what kind of features you’d like, fuel efficiency and running costs. You should also determine your budget and what you are willing to spend on a second-hand car.
When you start looking for you car you need to do your research. Start looking online and in newspapers, and visit a few used car dealerships. It doesn’t matter what seller you end up going with, because it’s important to understand the current market prices and what’s available to you. See what options your budget will allow and the different types of cars that you are able to get so when you find the car you want to buy, you can decide if you're getting a good deal. You might also have some bargaining power when it comes to the purchase.
Used car buyer’s checklist
When you are inspecting vehicles or going for a test drive, use this checklist to make sure you note the car's most important features to help you make an informed decision.
On your test drive
- The gears are smooth and can be moved quickly
- The engine power is appropriate to the car’s size
- The car tracks and brakes steadily and in a straight line
- The electrics and dials are fully operational
- The temperature dials do not show any signs of overheating
- The speedometer is functioning and displays your speed accurately
- There is no irregular engine noise
- You’ve checked the suspension and the transmission
- You’ve checked the brakes and the exhaust
The car's body
- There is no sign of accident or rust damage
- There is no sign of hail damage
- There are no panel irregularities
- The door and boot seals are intact
- The upholstery is in good condition
- There are no chips or variations in the paint
The car's interior
- The seatbelt shows no signs of wear and tear
- The lights inside the car are functioning
- The electronics, including the air conditioning, the audio and the windows, are working
The car's exterior
- You’ve taken note of the engine VIN and body number
- You’ve checked the exterior of the engine
- You’ve checked the engine oil and the radiator coolant
- There is no corrosion of the tubes and brackets
Documents you’ll need
- PPSR certificate
- Transfer of ownership documents
- Registration papers
All the factors that come into play when you buy a used car can seem overwhelming, but you want to make sure that you’re buying a quality vehicle. Once you know what to look out for and after you’ve done your own research on what cars are available, you can make an informed decision.