Buying a Used Car

Used Car Buying Tips

There are a large number of factors which must be considered when buying a used car. RAA’s Technical Advisory team have provided the following advice for you to consider when making this significant purchasing decision.

How much should you spend?

Before buying a car, it’s important to decide on a maximum price and stick to it. It is important to remember that buying a car involves expenses such as transfer fee, stamp duty, insurance and registration. Be sure to allow for these additional costs in your budget.

If you are borrowing money it is best to arrange finance beforehand. The amount you can afford to borrow may determine your budget. Make sure to carefully check the interest rates and loan conditions, as they usually vary between financial institutions. Examine the loan repayments carefully - do they allow for changes in your income or interest rates?

To get an idea of the likely price range of cars that you're interested in our Technical Advisory Service can provide you with pricing information.

We use Glass's Guide, a comprehensive database that includes information on vehicle prices and specification data, residual value information and market intelligence. This is the industry standard and only available to subscribers, so you'll have the same information as the professionals. To obtain this information, speak to one of our Technical Advisers by calling 8202 4689 or send us an email.

If you want to get an online indication of the likely price range of cars that you're interested in, try an online database such as Redbook.

Choosing the right car

When choosing what type of car to get, consider the type of driving you’ll be doing and whether this might change in the future. Think about things like how many people will the vehicle usually carry and whether it will be required to tow a caravan or trailer will help determine the type of vehicle and engine size that suits you best. If you plan to tow, a six cylinder engine would be best suited. However, if your driving will be done mainly in the metropolitan area, then a four cylinder model may be best.

Think about how much you can spend each week to run the car. Usually, the more cylinders a car has; the higher the registration and the higher the fuel consumption. Also consider that it may be harder to obtain parts for a less popular model of car.

If you'd like to find out if the car you're thinking of buying is a high powered vehicle, head to the EzyReg website. All you need to do is click on the check high powered vehicle status link and type in the car's registration number or the vehicle identification number to see what it's listed as.

Another important factor to consider when buying a used car is to consider what safety features the vehicle has. An increasing number of new vehicles are being equipped with safety features that help drivers avoid a crash or protect you in a crash. So if you’re buying an older car, it’s best to check whether these safety features are included. When deciding between different vehicles, or different models of the same vehicle, always chose the one with more of the following features.

- Electronic Stability Control

- Traction Control

- Anti-lock Brake System (ABS)

- Brake Assist

- Front, side, curtail and knee airbags

- Crumple Zones

- Collapsible Steering Columns

- Reinforced Door Frames

Where to buy from?

There are three different options when deciding where to buy your used car from. You can buy privately from the current owner, through a vehicle dealer or through an auction.

Buying privately or through an auction may provide you with greater bargaining power but does not allow you to trade in your old vehicle. If you purchase from a dealer, a warranty may apply, when buying privately or at auction, you won’t receive a warranty.

RAA Vehicle Inspections help you make informed decisions about the used car you're looking to buy. Book one for yourself online or ask your dealer if they sell used cars which have been inspected by RAA.

Test driving a car

Test driving the vehicle you are interested in buying is crucial, especially when buying a used car because you want to make sure it’s in good condition.

You should ensure that it starts easily, has no excessive engine noise and doesn’t blow smoke from the exhaust. Check for oil and petrol smells, leaks and overheating. Whining noises from the gearbox or differential could mean expensive repairs. Loud thumps resounding through the car on rough roads could indicate worn suspension components.

Check that all instruments and controls on the interior of the car are working. Make sure that the heater blows hot air and if air-conditioned, ensure it blows cold air.

While certain things can be picked up during a simple road test, there are a whole range of things that can only be picked up by a trained mechanic. This is why it’s always best to have the vehicle checked by an independent expert. RAA Vehicle Inspections offer a number of inspection services to all motorists.

Personal Properties Security Register
(formerly Vehicle Securities Register)

If you are satisfied with the condition of the vehicle, visit the Personal Property Security Register online at to make sure that there is no money owing on the car, or have the RAA do this check for you as part of the RAA Pre-purchase Total Care Vehicle Inspection.

The PPS Register is a notice board which allows individuals and organisations to search and register security interests in personal property.

If there is a loan attached to the vehicle it could be repossessed and you could lose your money. They can also tell you if the vehicle is held as security on a loan and may tell you if it is stolen or has previously been wrecked and written-off.

They will require the registration number, engine number and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). For a small fee, they can provide you with a certificate. This may give you legal protection and prevent repossession by any former credit provider.

The Register isn't able to give any guarantee regarding its accuracy on stolen vehicles as a car may be stolen and sold before its theft is reported to the police.

If you are buying from a licensed motor vehicle dealer, they must guarantee that there is no finance owing on the vehicle. In this situation you do not have to use the Personal Property Security Register, unless to satisfy yourself about theft or write off.


Buying a car? Get it inspected.