What to look for when buying a used car

Posted by: Cal on 28/11/2013

Category: General

Second hand cars are usually much more affordable than new cars and can be just as mechanically sound as current models. However, you can get burnt when buying second-hand, so it pays to do your research.

If you're not particularly car-savvy and you're about to buy a used car, make sure you read this handy guide first!

Research the market

Before you set your heart on a specific model, design, price or even colour, it's best to thoroughly research the used car market to get a good gauge of what's out there.

Consider searching slightly outside your town or city in order to get the best range. Often, sellers will drive a car to you for inspections and purchase, or you can go to them. You may find your dream car for a great deal the next town over, so keep an open mind when you hunt.

Once you've got an idea of the kind of car you like the look of, do an internet search to find out its current market value, safety ratings and any common problems its models experience.

The more information you have, the more educated you will be when it comes time to purchase the vehicle. It may also allow you to negotiate a better price with the seller, so take notes!

Inspect the vehicle

Before you hand over your hard earned cash, give the car a thorough inspection. You may want to bring along a friend or relative who has a bit of car know-how to help with this.

If you're really serious about a car, it pays to get it inspected by a qualified professional who will point out any issues or mechanical problems it may have.

Start with the car tyres and work your way up. Look for any obvious signs of wear and tear, including patchy tyre tread and scuffs on the wheels. Obvious signs of rust anywhere on the car body should be a warning sign to look further into the cause.

Keep an eye out for changes in paint condition, as this can show a recent paint job that may be masking a hidden problem.

Inside the car, make sure the seatbelts are in good condition and work as they should. Turn the car on (and go for a test drive if you can!) to ensure the engine sounds like it's running normally, and also take the time to check electric items like indicators, lights and the radio.

Remember to take a look under the hood, too. While you may have no idea what things should look like, a particularly grimy or dusty engine can point to poor maintenance and other problems. Ask your mechanic to do a thorough check up of this area to ensure everything is where it should be.

Ask for paperwork

A reputable seller or dealer should have relevant paperwork for the car. They should be able to detail all maintenance and repair work, such as replacements, the car has received over time. This is known as a service history and will be extremely helpful if you have issues with the car down the track.

No matter how genuine the dealer may seem, it's important to keep your guard up and do the appropriate checks. Check the car's history to ensure it's not stolen or a previous write-off. To do this, get the car's VIN number and check against your state's database.

Pay in person

Steer clear of buying a car without seeing it and try to avoid paying someone over the internet as much as possible. This is where fraud artists make their money - they take your payment and provide you with either no car at all, or you end up with a lemon. Do as much of your dealing in person to avoid a scam.