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Buying A Used Vehicle


We get asked all the time about what is a good car to buy. Unfortunately there is no straight forward answer to that question. I will describe, in steps, on what you need to do to select the right car.


  • Vehicle selection

While colour and style is important to most people. One important point to remember is a car will cost money to run, and the type of car you choose will have an impact on how much money it will cost.The first point to consider is fuel economy, larger heavy cars will use more fuel, as will automatic cars. An internet search should give you a good idea of fuel consumption of any particular model.Next to consider is what will it cost to register and insure your car. Get a few insurance quotes for the car you are thinking of buying, and then check with your state government roads authority for what registration will cost.Next to consider is general maintenance costs, things like what does a service cost and how often should it be serviced, how much are a new set of tyres, does it have a timing belt and how long before it needs to be replaced, are there any major services coming up and what will they cost.Then consider what repairs will cost, is it the type of car where parts are expensive and it is difficult to work on meaning expensive labour rates. As a general rule the more common a car is the cheaper the parts, for more specific advice talk to your mechanic. Do an internet search and check the safety rating of any vehicle you are considering and aim for a 4 or 5 star rating.


  • Research

Now it’s time to research your chosen model. First get onto which publish price guides for the various options of buying a used car. Then check all the car sales websites and check what price people are actually asking. If you are considering buying from a dealer know your rights regarding warranty. In NSW the NSW Fairtrading governs buying cars. Also check for any common problems, find out at what age they are most likely to occur and what it costs to repair.   


  • Looking At Cars

First rule is never buy the first car you see, or at least not until you have looked at some others. Also stay away from cars that have been modified, as cars like these would have had a hard life and it is likely any work was done DIY at a low standard.  Take a friend with you to help out and get a second opinion. Don’t go to look at cars at night or while it’s raining, it’s impossible to get a good impression of the body at either of these times.


The inspection should start as you approach the vehicle. You want something that looks as if it’s been cared for. A car with lots of scratches and dents is likely not to be have been cared for mechanically. Look for any areas where the colour doesn’t quite match the rest of the car, or if one area is shinier that the rest of the car as this can be a sign of previous accident damage. Also check the VIN on the car matches the VIN on the rego papers.


Open the bonnet and have a general look around for a general impression. Check all the fluids for not only correct levels but also the condition of the fluids. If the car is cold have a good look at the coolant condition, a very rusty or dirty cooling system will cause cooling problems for the life of the car, and raises questions about the service history. Also look underneath the car for any fresh looking fluid stains on the ground.


Now it’s time to play detective, ask the seller a few questions. The first question is why are you selling, then ask if it’s ever been in an accident, also ask about its history mechanically. It will be your job to determine if they are lying. If they tell you they are upgrading due to a growing family, and you see a large car in the drive way and a new mum holding a newborn you can safely assume they are telling you the truth. Likewise if they tell you they are upgrading and you see a new car in the driveway, if the new car is the same make as the one they are selling then you can also assume they were happy with the car they are now selling. Also ask to look for a service history, while a bunch of stamps in a log book is good, nothing beats all the receipts for work done on the car. If available go over them and ask about anything abnormal, for example if a radiator has only recently been replaced, there is a possibility that the engine was overheated which has done some major engine damage which is why they are now selling. Also check or ask about any information regarding the common problems you researched earlier to see if they have already been repaired.


Now it’s time for the test drive. You want to drive it in as many conditions as possible i.e. smooth roads, rough roads, speed bumps, freeways etc. As you start the car check all the warning lights on the instrument cluster are working, pay particular attention to the oil warning light, this should go out within one second of the engine starting, any longer and it could indicate a worn engine. Also check that the check engine light, the ABS light and the SRS airbag light are working correctly (i.e. they should all come on when the ignition is on then switch off with in a few seconds after the engine is started), be wary if any of these lights don't come on with ignition on. If they stay on after the engine is started this indicates a fault within the respective system which can be both fairly cheap and very expensive to repair. Listen out for any abnormal noised coming from the engine or steering and suspension. If an auto look out for how it changes gears, you want a firm gear change without it being to jerky. If it’s a manual again you want good positive easy gear changes, check the operation of the clutch to see if it feels right, check for any shudder as the clutch is being released. Check for how the engine performs and mentally compare it to other cars of the same model you have driven. Find a quiet road somewhere and making sure there is no one behind you brake firmly, check that the car continues in a straight line and doesn’t pull to one side, and that the brakes work ok without undue pedal effort. Pull over somewhere and operate every switch, button and lever making sure everything works. Pay particular attention to the heating and A/C systems as these can be expensive to repair. Also check all windows, door handles and seat belts for proper operation.


Upon return discuss any issues you have found with the seller and gauge their response. Be wary if the seller tells you he knows about a particular problem and it’s just a simple fix, if that was the case they would have probably had it fixed before showing the car, it’s more likely they know about it and the fix is not so easy and may even be the reason they are selling the car.


  • Afterwards


Once you have found a car you like, get it inspected by a professional. We are able to provide pre purchase inspections at our workshop, or for a very thorough on location inspection we recommend NSW MTA. While you’re waiting for it to be inspected make sure you do a revs check.

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