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Buying A Used Car Made Simple: A Step By Step Guide

This checklist will help you complete an inspection of any vehicle that interests you whether buying from a used car dealer or a private seller.

 used car

What do I look for on the exterior of the car when inspecting?


·       Look for bubbles, flaking or peeling paintwork. These are signs of rust.

·       Look for signs of the car being in an accident. Is there paint overspray or dents in the body? Are all the panels aligned properly? Is filler used in any part of the body?

·       Check all the doors, windows, bonnet and boot open and close smoothly. Is the windscreen in good condition with no chips or cracks?

·       Check whether the windscreen wipers need replacing.

·       What condition is the exterior paintwork in? Is it faded? If it is, this can mean the vehicle is not kept under cover.

·       Any scratches and bumps in the body can indicate a lack of care by the owner when looking after the car.

·       Check all the tyres are in good condition and do not need replacing straight away.

·       Make sure all the lights are working—taillights, headlights, brake lights, parking and reversing lights. If any do not work, ask the seller to replace the globes to make sure it is not an electrical or wiring fault.

·       Check under the vehicle for signs of leaking oil or coolant.


What do I look for under the bonnet of the car?


·       Before you take the car for a test drive check the coolant is clean.

·       Check the colour of the oil. It should be the colour of honey or if the vehicle runs on diesel the oil will be black.

·       Also check the brake, transmission and power steering fluids. Are they sitting within the minimum and maximum levels?

·       Check the hoses and wiring are in good condition and everything is connected.

·       Ask the seller for a copy of the vehicle’s service history.

What do I look for in the interior of the car?


·       When checking the interior look for cracked or broken plastics and for stains and tears in the upholstery and carpet. Depending on the age of the car this can be normal wear and tear.

·       An interior that is clean and in good condition indicates the seller looks after the vehicle.

·       Check all the equipment works—airconditioner, heater, radio, fans, reversing camera, GPS and parking sensors.

·       Check the vehicle has a jack in case of a flat tyre.

·       Do the seatbelts work correctly. Are they difficult to use?

·       Ask whether the vehicle was affected by the airbag recall and if these were replaced.


When test driving the car, what do I look for?


When test driving a car, take it along roads you would normally travel. Try to vary it so you are driving over bumps, stopping and starting in traffic, and travelling up and down hills. Consider the following as you drive:

·       How easy is the car to steer?

·       Does it accelerate smoothly?

·       How responsive are the brakes?

·       How does it idle when waiting in traffic?

·       How does the engine sound?

·       Is the exhaust making loud sounds or is it quiet?

·       How does the vehicle handle in different conditions?

·       Is it comfortable to drive?


What paperwork is needed when buying a car?


·       Look for the vehicle identification number (VIN) and check it matches the registration papers.

·       When buying privately, ask for the seller’s driver’s licence to match it against the registration papers.

·       Ask if the vehicle comes with an up-to-date roadworthy certificate. In some Australian states they must be sold with a current roadworthy.

Should I get an expert to look at the car for me?


If you have any doubts about a vehicle that interests you, put it through a pre purchase inspection with an independent operator.

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