Tips to buying a used car
There’s no shortage of benefits to buying a used car, but blindly paying thousands for one without the proper research and background checks is financially risky.
Here’s a checklist of what to consider when buying a used car:
- How much you’ll be driving it. Do you need a cheap run-around or a sturdy beast that can endure daily bouts of long-distance driving?
- Lifestyle factors. Is it practical for your lifestyle? For example, is there enough room for your kids or for transporting furniture?
- Safety. What’s its safety rating? Some older used cars lack the newer safety features that are deemed critical in the modern era.
- Security. Does it have modern security features?
- Car insurance premiums. If the car lacks the latest safety and security features, you may be facing higher car insurance premiums.
- Where you’ll buy the car from. You can get a car from either a dealer, an auction or a private sale, all of which have different pros and cons.
What to check when buying a used car?
You should always endeavour to check the following aspects of a used car:
- The outside: paintwork, damage to the tyres and panels, oil leaks and broken windows
- The inside: working seatbelts, working lights and accessories, and wear and tear on the seats and carpets
- Under the bonnet: check the radiator cap, battery and cooling fans for signs of corrosion or damage
If possible, take the car for a test drive to see how smoothly the car runs and listen for any irregular sounds or movements the car makes.
Below are some low variable rate car loans for used cars.
Should you buy from a car dealer or a private seller?
Buying from a car dealer or a private seller both have their advantages and disadvantages. Below is a summary to point you in the right direction:
||Dealer ||Private seller |
- Often more expensive
- Professional salespeople can pressure you into unnecessary purchases and add-ons through tricky sales tactics
- The car might be encumbered
- It’s easier to get it wrong if you don’t know much about cars
- No warranties or cooling-off periods
- Less legal protection
- You and the seller are responsible for the paperwork (bill of sale, registration, transfer of title etc.)
- Harder to get a secured car loan
- Thoroughly inspected cars
- Guaranteed title (free of encumbrances)
- Legal protection, warranties and cooling-off periods
- Additional services (e.g. handle paperwork, accept trade-ins)
- It can be cheaper than buying through a dealership
- You may be in a better position to negotiate
- Can find better quality, well cared for cars
How to buy a car privately?
Buying a car from a private seller can be cheaper than buying from a dealer, but you need to have your wits about you. You should run a history check of the car to see if has been written-off, stolen or has finance owing on it. If you buy a car with finance owned, you could become liable for the debts and the car could become repossessed.
Consult the Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) in your state or territory to check for finance owing.
There can be fewer consumer law protections in place when buying a car privately, which can put you at greater risk of being exposed to fraud, so do your due diligence on both the car and the seller.
What are the costs involved in buying a car?
In addition to the price of the car, you could be charged a combination of stamp duty, inspection fees, compulsory third party insurance (CTP), Encumbrance/PPSR fees to check for finance owing as well as potential interest on a car loan or finance deal. For a car loan, you might need to pay the following fees:
- Application or establishment fees
- Ongoing car loan fees
- Documentation fees
- Early or missed repayment fees
- Balloon payments at the end of the loan
Vehicle stamp duty
Stamp duty on a vehicle is a one-off payment, so there are no ongoing costs to worry about. But it can be pretty expensive. Stamp duty varies by state and applies to both new and used cars.
How much does stamp duty cost?
The table below shows the different duty payable in each state, for the same vehicle. The estimated cost will vary with a higher or lower purchase price, or with used or more environmentally friendly cars. As such, it’s worth calculating your stamp duty fee yourself on top of using this table for comparison between states.
|State or Territory
||Estimated duty payable
Frequently asked questions
1. Can I avoid paying stamp duty on my car?
There are some exceptions to paying stamp duty on new and used car purchases, such as if you’re on a disability pension, if the vehicle is used primarily to transport another disabled person, if you’re an eligible war veteran, etc. Read this stamp duty guide to find out more.
2. How can I pay for my first car?
Unless you’re lucky enough to receive support from the bank of mum and dad, you may need to take out a car loan. A car loan can either be secured or unsecured, and is available for both new cars and used cars.
3. Is buying a car privately cheaper than buying from a dealer?
There are financial pitfalls to both car dealers and private sellers: you could end up paying too much after getting fleeced by a car salesman, or you could waste money on a car that breaks down the instant you’ve put your name on it. But private car sales can offer a better opportunity to save big money, so long as you do your due diligence.
4. Why are used car safety ratings important?
A safe and sturdy car could also save yourself thousands of dollars in insurance excesses and repairs over the year, not to mention the significant personal costs of being involved in a serious accident. It’s also worth noting that your car insurance premiums might be lower with a safer car, as insurers do factor in the model of the car when handing out policies.
5. What’s the best time to buy a car?
Based on price data for used cars sold in Australia between 2006 to 2018, Manheim’s Market Intelligence team reported used car sales in September and October saw below average prices in 12 out of 13 years – 92% of the time. In the opposite sense, vehicles sold in March and April have achieved prices above the annual average in 12 out of the 13 years. Read more here.
6. What are the best car buying sites?
There are countless car buying sites in Australia, and it's impossible to say which is the best since there are merits to all of them. The most popular, however, are sites such as Carsales, Carsguide, Drive.com.au, Car City, Trading Post, Autoline and Carpoint. You can also buy and sell cars on sites like eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree.
7. Should i buy a car that's under finance?
Buying a car that still has finance owed by the previous owner becomes a matter of trust; Australian law dictates the buyer is responsible for checking if there are any debts owed on the car, so if you buy a car with finance on it, you could lose the car if the previous owner doesn't pay off that debt.
If you trust the person then buying a car under finance can be as easy as buying one without it, but you should check with the Personal Properties Security Register (PPSR) if you don't.
8. How to check if a car has finance?
When buying a used car from a private seller, you should check if it has any finance owing. To do this, simply enter the number plate or the chassis number in your state's Personal Properties Security Register (PPSR) or Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) to check for outstanding debts.
You can also use these registers to see:
- The car's registration status
- The vehicle details like the make and model
- Whether the car is stolen or not
- Whether the car has been written off
Checking this register may attract a fee.
The entire market was not considered in selecting the above products. Rather, a cut-down portion of the market has been considered which includes retail products from at least the big four banks, the top 10 customer-owned institutions and Australia’s larger non-banks:
- The big four banks are: ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac
- The top 10 customer-owned Institutions are the ten largest mutual banks, credit unions and building societies in Australia, ranked by assets under management in November 2019. They are (in descending order): Credit Union Australia, Newcastle Permanent, Heritage Bank, Peoples’ Choice Credit Union, Teachers Mutual Bank, Greater Bank, IMB Bank, Beyond Bank, Bank Australia and P&N Bank.
- The larger non-bank lenders are those who (in 2020) has more than $9 billion in Australian funded loans and advances. These groups are: Resimac, Pepper, Liberty and Firstmac.
- If you click on a product link and you are referred to a Product or Service Provider’s web page, it is highly likely that a commercial relationship exists between that Product or Service Provider and Savings.com.au
Some providers' products may not be available in all states.
In the interests of full disclosure, Savings.com.au, Performance Drive and Loans.com.au are part of the Firstmac Group. To read about how Savings.com.au manages potential conflicts of interest, along with how we get paid, please click through onto the web site links.
*The Comparison rate is based on a $30,000 loan over 5 years. Warning: this comparison rate is true only for this example and may not include all fees and charges. Different terms, fees or other loan amounts might result in a different comparison rate.