Learner driver and mum in the car
Tips & tricks

Tips for buying a used car

Trash or treasure? Buying a used car can be a great way of saving money, if you know what to look for.

With online platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Carsales.com, it’s never been easier to find your new ride on the internet. But it’s important to know what you’re looking for and how to identify red flags, so you can avoid wasting your money or buying a car which will be unsafe. We’ve put together five of our top tips for buying a used car.

1. Consider your needs

Buying your first car is exciting, but it’s also a big commitment. There’s registration and insurance to pay each year, petrol and regular servicing costs to keep in mind, so you want to make sure it’s going to suit your needs and lifestyle and that you can afford to pay all these bills.

If you mostly drive in the city, a small car will be suitable. If you do a lot of country or highway driving, maybe a sedan or 4WD is a safer option?

Consider the interior of the car as well. Do the seats go back far enough? Will the boot fit your bike or groceries? If you plan on having passengers regularly, is the back seat roomy enough and does it have four doors?

2. Take it for a test drive

This may seem like common sense, but it’s always smart to take the car on a test drive (or two) before buying it. If you’re new to the road, bring an experienced driver with you to get a second opinion. If possible, drive it up a hill and listen closely to the engine. Also, try driving it on a highway to see what the acceleration is like. Have a look out the rear vision mirror for any signs of smoke as you accelerate.

3. Take it for a pre-purchase vehicle inspection

While the car may look good from the outside, it's more difficult to tell what's going on under the bonnet. No one wants to buy a car only to find it needs costly repairs and maintenance. Having an experienced mechanic inspect the car before you buy it can save you a lot of money in the long run. You can book a vehicle inspection online with RACT AutoServe.

4. Look for low kilometres

The odometer can tell you a lot about a used car. If a car has driven a high number of kilometres it may be cheaper, but will have been exposed to more wear and tear. A good reference for the number of kilometres an average car travels in one year is 15,000 km. So if you’re looking at a 10 year old car and it has 150,000 km, that’s likely a good sign. Check the service manual for regular maintenance at a reputable repairer.

Former corporate or government fleet cars often have low mileage and have been well looked after. These can often be found for sale via auction (try Pickles Auctions).

5. Remember to check its safety rating

Always buy the safest car you can afford. Checking the ANCAP or used car safety rating for older vehicles is important when buying any car, especially when it's a few years old. The ANCAP safety rating system awards cars with a ranking of between one and five stars depending on their safety performance. You should also look out for curtain airbags, an anti-locking braking system (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC), which help prevent the car from skidding.