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Car Buying Advice from our Expert Mechanics

With decades of experience between them, our mechanics have put together some advice on buying a second-hand car from a Dealer or privately.

1. DO YOUR RESEARCH

It is important to research on the car you're considering. Use the internet to search for reviews (e.g. drive.com.au and forums), uncover any issues with reliability and get an idea of prices. Gumtree.com.au, carsales.com.au and drive.com.au are the main internet sales listing sites. Be sure to filter on the features you want - auto or manual, colour, 2- or 4-wheel drive, etc. The more you know up front the better armed you will be when you start inspecting and negotiating to purchase.

2. BEFORE MEETING THE SELLER

It is a good idea to check the status and history of the vehicle you are interested in. Ask the owner for the registration number and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You can get 2 types of report from the NSW Government. You can make 2 types of vehicle checks online - a free registration check and a vehicle history check.

The free registration check includes whether the NSW registration is suspended or cancelled, and the vehicle's registration expiry date.


For a fee, you can request a vehicle history report which includes:
  • if and why the vehicle was written-off anywhere in Australia from 2004
  • if the vehicle, its number plates or engine are stolen
  • the vehicle's past use, for example, as a taxi/hire car
  • if the vehicle has single/joint registered operators, and
  • the vehicle's first registration date in NSW.

3. MEETING THE OWNER AND INSPECTING THE CAR

Always, always, always test drive the car. Ask a lot of questions about the car including why the owner is selling it and whether they have any service records showing regular maintenance. Do a visual inspection of the car's exterior and interior to see that it is in goodcondition. Check for signs of abuse, neglect, accidents or damage.

Look in the spare tyre compartment (usually under the boot floor). This is a great place for rubbish and dirt to collect in a neglected car. Look under the bonnet at the engine - is it clean and tidy? Check the spare tyre - is it in good condition?

Make sure the seller is providing you with all necessary keys, key fobs, and remotes that go with the vehicle (these can be VERY expensive to replace). If the car has wheel locks, make sure the seller provides you with the proper wheel lock key/socket. Also make sure the car comes with the owner’s manual, any extended warranty documents and service records, as well as a spare tire, jack and tools (this one often goes unnoticed).

Take the car for a test drive - listen for any strange noises coming from the car during acceleration or braking. Be sure to take the car out on a freeway to ensure it operates properly at high speeds. Test the brakes several times during the drive, braking both hard and normally to determine their responsiveness. Check the dashboard for any warning lights and make sure all the controls (all power windows, wipers, blinkers, radio, etc.) and especially the air conditioning system work.

4. THE VEHICLE PASSED YOUR INSPECTION - NOW HAVE A PROFESSIONAL CHECK IT OUT

If you like the car and it is in good condition, negotiate the price subject to the inspection of a professional mechanic. Use your own mechanic, someone they recommend near the car or a service like the NRMA. The mechanic's inspection will cover the fluids, brakes, electrical systems, cooling system, suspension, engine/exhaust, HVAC, tires, and body. The mechanic will scan the car's various computers for trouble codes and test drive the vehicle. Should the mechanic discover any problems, he or she can estimate repair costs and you can use these for further negotiations with the seller. This way you can have good independent information about the car you are buying.


5. BUYING THE CAR

It's over to you to negotiate with the seller. Now you have the best information available on the car to help you negotiate. Don't be afraid to ask for a discount if you think the car is too expensive compared to similar alternatives, concessions to cover any repairs or to reflect the condition of this particular car.

We hope this information is useful and good luck with this adventure!

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