Top Ten Tips for Buying a Used Car, from a Hobbyist Mechanic

Howdy! So you’ve decided you need to buy a car for the first time, or perhaps you’re looking to upgrade your current model for another. Whatever the reason, you should find some great tips below. I’ll break down and share with you the top ten tips that I have used prior to getting my cars, some that I have painfully learnt along the way.

Say yes to a pre-purchase inspection

If you’re someone who is not mechanically inclined or doesn’t have someone in their life who is, a third-party pre-purchase inspection is 100% worth it. For 2 to 3 hundred dollars, you can feel confident that the car you’re likely investing a heap of money into doesn’t have any hidden gremlins that will pop their head up later, potentially saving you thousands. Worst case scenario, you have peace of mind that your car is in good mechanical condition. A necessary inclusion if you ask me.

Say no to a used car “extra” warranty at the dealerships

This only applies if you buy from a dealership in Victoria, but if the car is under 10 years old AND has travelled less than 160,000kms at the time of purchase, most if not all of the items that would be covered in the extra warranty (that the used car salesperson will be trying very hard to sell to you) are covered in the Statutory Warranty. For the full terms and conditions, visit the below link to the relevant Victorian Consumer Affairs page.

Take someone along with you.

If you’re really not wanting to fork out for a pre-purchase inspection, take along a friend or relative who knows a thing or two about cars. It’s always better to have two sets of eyes looking for issues than one. It also pays to have someone you can bounce ideas off of, which model was better, etc.

Test drive!

This is a big one. Always always ALWAYS test drive a car before you buy! Test-driving your potential new set of wheels is so important, as there can be issues that pop up only when rolling on the road, particularly when going a certain speed for example. It also allows you to get a feel for the vehicle while it’s in motion. You may love the look of the vehicle, but does it drive well?

Don’t be afraid to haggle, or walk away

One of my favourite things to do is haggle on price. Call me cheap, Idgaf. My go-to move is to turn up the awkwardness level and have long periods of ‘thought’. It compels the seller to fill in the gaps in conversation and more often than not, will lead to them continuing to offer incentives and price discounts. Once, through a combination of awkwardness and insistence on walking away, I got $3000 taken off the price of a car. For once, awkwardness pays off!

Check the service booklet for regular servicing with no gaps

This is a very important one. You want to make sure that the car you’re looking at has a complete and recorded service history, from the very beginning to the current odometer reading, making sure there aren’t any missed pages or long stretches between services. Depending on the make and model, there should be services recorded every 10,000-20,000km. Consult the service booklet for the intervals for that model, and if the car doesn’t come with one, run!

Kilometres aren’t everything

Following on from the last tip, higher kilometres aren’t necessarily a bad thing, provided it has a comprehensive service history. I would much rather have a car with higher kilometres and a solid service history, than a car with lower kilometres and no/patchy service history. This obviously has its limits, but the age-old adage of quality over quantity certainly applies

Organise insurance (3rd party at a minimum!!) before you drive it from the seller

Cars are expensive y’all, and I know it’s hard to think about all the extra costs associated with a car, but insurance is one of those things that is unavoidable and so damn important. Imagine driving your shiny new (to you) set of wheels home for the first time, and you manage to crash into something (or worse, someone). Stranger things have happened, and surprisingly, many people don’t organise insurance before they take possession of the vehicle. Risky move, with no payoff. Get it done.

If buying privately, get the seller to organise a roadworthy certificate before you transfer any money

Big one. In Victoria, a roadworthy certificate from an approved service centre is required to transfer a car into your name for the purposes of registration. Do not fall into the trap of a seller offering a lower price on the vehicle in exchange for you organising the roadworthy certificate yourself, as anything wrong with the vehicle will be your responsibility to fix before registration, likely costing you hundreds if not thousands depending on what’s wrong. If the seller doesn’t want to do it because “they don’t have time”, neither should you.

Check the cost of insurance and servicing/parts before you buy

Lastly, before you settle on a model, ask a few mechanics, or have a quick Google search online to work out the rough cost of ownership before you buy. As a general rule, European makes such as BMW and Skoda will be more expensive to service than Asian brands such as Mitsubishi or Hyundai. Do your research on the particular model you’re interested in and see the common defects or issues (every car has something).

And that’s about it! I hope you take something from this guide and find it somewhat useful!