A checklist for buying a second-hand car

Buying a car can be an exciting time. But, if you're buying second-hand, it's extra important to do your research. Buy with your head, not your heart, so you can get the most bang for your buck. Knowing what to look out for can be difficult, but we've broken down the basics of buying a car second-hand.

Before you buy

Before you start shopping, determine what you want and need. But with so much out there, that can be tough to narrow down! Here are some things to consider:

Where to buy

Buying from a private seller

The magic of a private seller is that there's usually more wiggle room for negotiation. However, you have to rely on your own judgement and your level of trust in the seller. That's why it's important to ask the right questions, such as:

  • Can the seller guarantee there's no debt left on the car?
  • Is the car roadworthied, or is the seller willing to get a certificate?
  • Has the car been involved in any previous accidents?
  • How many owners has the car had?
  • Does the owner have a car service history report?

If you have the car's registration or the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), you can also conduct your own research by ordering an official report from the Personal Property Security Register (PPSR).

If you do buy privately, it's up to you and the seller to organise all the paperwork, including the registration transfer.

Buying from a dealer

  • While buying from a dealership can be more expensive, it can also take a lot of the legwork out of the process. For example, licensed dealerships will have documents and information on hand, including the car history, and a guarantee the car is free from debt. Things like stamp duty and registration may also be included in the drive-away price, whereas you'd have to organise those yourself if you bought the car privately.
  • Dealerships may also have a cooling-off period built into their deals, so if you have cold feet or if something isn't right, you might have options. Make sure to ask the dealer before you buy!

How to inspect

  • Whether you're buying privately or from a dealer, taking the car for a spin is essential! Beyond the basic stuff, like whether the seats are comfortable, the brakes aren't too stuttery and it feels smooth to drive, it's important to take a look inside.
  • Pop the bonnet while the engine is still running and check for rattling and leaks. Also make sure the lights, windscreen wipers, air conditioning, power windows, central locking and audio are intact. You may want to take it to your own mechanic to get it checked, too.

After you buy

  • Once you've purchased your new-to-you vehicle, it's essential to change over the registration & pay any transfer fees and stamp duties (applicable). You usually only have a short period to sort out your rego, so put it at the top of your priority list. Contact your state or territory transport authority for forms and requirements.
  • Once you've settled these vehicle registration transfer costs, you'll need to organise and pay for the registration under your own name and the compulsory third party insurance (CTP) relevant to the state or territory you live in it falls due. Some state and territory have CTP included with the registration.
  • CTP covers you for injury to others, you might also want to protect yourself from liability for damage to other people's property caused by the use or your vehicle if you are in an accident or against costs if your vehicle is stolen, damaged or vandalised. It's important to get your car insurance sorted as soon as possible, preferably before driving your car, as you can never predict when an accident can happen. Making sure your car is insured from day one helps minimise risk, so you can enjoy your car with peace of mind.
  • Not sure what insurance you need? Read What Kind of Car Insurance Could Be Right For Me? or Compare Our Car Insurance Products.

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