Buying a car

Contact the seller

And when you do, don't be afraid to ask lots of questions:

  • how long have they had the car
  • why are they selling it
  • has it ever been damaged
  • what condition is it in

Checking the car

Buying a carMake sure you have a thorough look over the car yourself, and best of all, have an independent mechanic or automotive centre check it out properly on a hoist. It could save you thousands by revealing mechanical problems and previous damage.

  • Always physically view the vehicle, preferably in daylight hours and not in the dark or in rain as it's easier to see any damage in full daylight.
  • Check under the car, the bonnet and the interior carpet for rust and signs - such as welding marks - which may show the car has been in a crash.
  • Under the bonnet, look for signs of oil leaks on top of the engine, and underneath. Use the dipstick to check the amount of oil. If the level is low, the owner hasn't been looking after the car properly.
  • Don't buy a car that is leaking any fluid (black=engine oil/brake fluid, brown=engine oil/brake fluid, red=gearbox, green=radiator or other.), has an oily looking engine head or rust on important parts of the chassis such as the door areas, or near the suspensions.
  • Look around the oil filler cap for a white mayonnaise-like substance - this is an indication of a damaged head gasket which can be very expensive to put right.
  • Take a look at the tyres to make sure they're in good condition with plenty of tread.
  • Get down in front of each front wheel and look along the length of the car. Both front wheels should be directly in front of the rear ones - if they're not, it could mean the car has been in a crash and ended up with a slightly twisted or `crabbed' chassis.
  • Check the gaps between the body panels are equal - if they're not, the car could have been refitted badly, or may have been in a crash - inside the car, make sure the seatbelts work correctly, the steering wheel and dashboard are bolted on correctly, the front seats move properly and all switches work.
  • Ask for the service history of the car (ask for the service book, dealer check ups are always written down and stamped in the service book).
If you're not comfortable doing this on your own, get the car inspected by your state's roadside assistance - it might cost you a few hundred dollars but could end up saving you thousands if there's something wrong and the car's a dud.

Each state / territory has their own roadside assistance organisation:

Test drive the car

Take it for a test drive to make sure it feels right. A car may look good but you might not feel comfortable driving it. Don't buy a car you have not test driven yourself for at least around the block. If you are too scared to drive it, ask the seller to take you on a short ride and tell him what you would like him to do: brake sharp, accelerate fast, etc.

  • Start the car with a cold engine, which will make is easier to reveal problems like poor starting or too much smoke.
  • Before you set off, turn the steering wheel from one lock to the other to make sure there is no screeching, banging, or knocking.
  • To test the handbrake, pull it on and then try to drive off very gently. It should hold the car back.
  • Listen for strange noises from the engine, and don't let the seller distract you by talking or turning up the radio.
  • Drive on as many different roads surfaces as possible.
  • Use all the gears, and check the gear change is slick and smooth.
  • Don't buy a car that has problems with the gearbox (automatic or manual) - this type of repair can be very expensive. Don't buy the argument that you will have to use overdrive or use neutral position when parking.
  • Make sure the clutch pedal 'bites' between the top and middle of the pedal's travel.
  • Don't buy a car that doesn't stop (SHARP!) when you want it to stop.
  • Check all the car lights with the help of a friend.

Inside the car

  • Are the seats comfortable?
  • If you have a family with small children, consider space in the rear seat for booster seats and car seats - do they fit comfortably?
  • Are the seatbelts easy to reach if you're strapping a child in?
  • Is there enough space for luggage? Bring a few bags and packages along with you to test the capacity out.
  • If you have larger children, put all of them in the back seat during the test drive (or sit there with them) to make sure that they have enough room.

Check the aftersales

  • Ask the car dealer for feedback from his customers and check the Internet.
  • Ask the car dealer for a specification of the warranty. How long is the warranty period? What is covered? What is not?
  • Ask the car dealer about the after-sales service. What do you get?
  • Ask the car dealer about servicing. What do they offer?
  • Ask the car dealer about insurance and rego costs.

Go home and think

After you have checked the car, think if you really want to have this car. If you're buying new, choose your colour(s) and options at home. Make a list of the options you need and the options you'd like to have. Call a number (that is not two, that is eight or more) of car dealers and ask for a price. Make sure the price you get is the drive away price.

Buying / negotiating the price

Don't buy a car if you do not have at least some basic knowledge of cars and know what to look for.

  • Make a list of any faults you found with the car, or any work that might need doing, and calculate how much this could add to the price.
  • Look at the number of months of registration left - if a year's registration comes with it, it can save you 500 dollars!
  • From this position, negotiate the price with the seller.
  • Ask the seller what their best price is, make a lower offer and then say nothing. They can only either turn you down, accept your offer or name another price closer to yours.
  • Negotiate the vehicle price with all the options included if you are buying genuine options.
  • Get a confirmed delivery date in writing. Make sure that this is realistic.
  • Don't rush into your purchase. Remember: if it looks too good to be true it probably is.

Paperwork and payment

  • Make sure all the paperwork is in order, and that you have original versions (never photocopies) of the registration papers, service history and logbook.
  • If you're making a payment or even just a deposit, get a receipt and make sure the seller's full details are on it.