Buying a used car is a cheap and more resourceful way to get into the driving market than getting a brand new one. But the process of buying a used car can be a headache, and even more so when you think about the fact that it will be one of the biggest purchases you will ever make (even if it’s a used car).

This used car buying guide will alleviate some of that pain by taking you through the process and giving you the information you need for a less stressful buying experience.  

Work out your budget

There’s no right or wrong answer here, as everyone’s financial situation is different.  But figuring how much you can afford is an important first piece of the puzzle in figuring out which vehicle you should be looking to buy .

Figure out if you need finance

Not everyone can afford to pay up front. Sometimes you need a loan to stretch your budget further so you can get the car that you need. If you need to borrow money, you can go out and do your own research and organise a loan yourself, though financing for used cars can be tricky to secure. A simple way around this problem is that if you buy from a dealer, many will be able to offer you financing through them.

Narrow down the right car for your search

Before you go shopping you need a shopping list. There are hundreds of makes, models and years for you to choose from, so it’s a good idea to narrow it down or you will be overwhelmed in your search. Have a think about what you will be using the car for and what car features you need to suit your own lifestyle. Things like number of seats, manual or automatic transmission, car body type, 4wd for offroading, heated seats, child seat anchor points, boot space, etc. Now all you have to do is to make a list of all the cars that have the features you want and are also within your budget.

Dealer vs. Private Seller

You may be asking yourself if it’s better to buy from a licensed dealer or a private seller. There are pros and cons to buying from each. Popular opinion is that you should always look to buy only from private sellers because they are cheaper. This is true, but there is also more behind a dealer’s price such as a range of services they provide as well as statutory warranty.

Check the paperwork and history

When you’ve finally located a car for sale, try to find out the history of the car, including ownership history, repair history, and service history. Make sure the servicing has been followed and is up to date.

Do a Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) check to make sure that there are no unwanted surprises attached to the vehicle, such as money owing on the car, or if it’s been stolen or written off. Also good to know when buying from dealers is that they must guarantee that there is no money owing on any used cars they sell.

Check that they have all the paperwork with proper details and make sure the mileage and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the car matches up to what is on the license/registration papers. 

Inspection of the car

Go over the whole vehicle and visually inspect the inside and outside of the car, including tyres. Look out for any defects, rust, signs of repairs to damage, or excessive wear and tear. Also inspect under the bonnet. Check for things like oil levels and wear. Check the windows and other features to make them work properly or as they are meant to. Bring along a knowledgeable friend or family member if you’re not good or confident with cars.

It’s always worth considering getting an independent inspection done. Ask the seller if you can get the care checked out by a trusted mechanic or somewhere that offers pre-purchase inspections. They might catch things that you missed or can’t. If not, at least dealers have their own mechanics do an inspection on any used car before putting it up for sale.

Taking a test drive is a must

It’s always important to take a car for a test drive, no matter if the car is new or used. Take the car through all the motions of daily driving and see how comfortable you feel during the test drive. Test the heating/air conditioning, power windows, radio, smartphone connection or any other electrical/electronic functions, and note any strange noises or smells during the drive. Don’t rush it, take your time.

Make sure the price is right

If all goes well enough with the inspection and you’re happy to go ahead with the purchase, always make a lower offer. There’s always room for negotiation, especially when buying a used car. In fact, most sellers will be expecting some haggling to occur. The simplest and most effective way is to take out the list of any issues or problems that were found during the inspection and use it to drive down the price. You should also research the market value of the car, so you know how low you can go. You might be surprised at the final price they will accept.

Once a price has been agreed on, all that’s left is to sign, complete the transfer paperwork and Congratulations! You’re now the proud and happy owner of a used vehicle.