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What to Check Before Buying a Used Car

Car dealership handing over keys to a buyer

When you buy a used car, there's always the risk that it may be in poor condition, have money owing on it, be a stolen vehicle, or have been involved in an accident at some time in its life.

With that in mind, it pays to check a few things before you sign on the dotted line, such as:

Check the price

A vehicle’s selling price is determined by its age and how far it has travelled. If you know these details beforehand (most car ads include year of manufacture and kilometres travelled), you can do some research and determine the average selling price for similar vehicles of that model and year.

There are free websites where you can find this information, and once you know the average selling price, you can work out whether the seller is asking a fair price for their vehicle. Remember, when deciding how much you can afford to spend, don’t forget to factor in the cost of registration and motor vehicle insurance as well.

Check the car

If you don’t know a lot about cars, take someone with you who does when you go to inspect the vehicle. Things to look for include rust in the bodywork, bald tyres, cracks in the windscreen, oil leaks, welding marks from accident repair work, worn brakes or suspension and noises coming from the engine or gearbox.

If you don’t have a mechanically-inclined friend, it would be well worth the money to have a licensed mechanic check the vehicle over for you. A service such as the RAC will visit the car yard or private address, carry out the inspection and present you with a comprehensive list of items needing attention.

Check the history

If the car seems okay, then you need to check its history to make sure it doesn’t have a shady past. You’ll need its registration number, engine number and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). 
There are free and fee-based services online where you can check the vehicle’s history.

The Personal Property Security Register is a government website where you can conduct a basic search on a vehicle for just $3.50. For a small extra fee it will present you with a certificate, which could protect you from having the vehicle repossessed, if it later turned out to have money owing on it. The search will show whether the vehicle has been in any major accidents, whether it has finance owing on it and whether it is listed as stolen.

Check the paperwork

If the vehicle is mechanically sound, has a clean history and is fairly priced, then it’s time to make the purchase. When you do though, make sure you check all the paperwork involved. If you are buying from a dealership, read the loan agreement carefully with regard to interest being charged and any conditions attached to the loan. If you are purchasing from a private seller, make sure you are given the registration papers, the vehicle log book and the transfer of ownership papers, which you both must sign.

Regardless of where you buy the vehicle, don’t forget the most important part: arrange car insurance cover so that you are fully insured from the moment you drive away.