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Buying a second-hand car and what to look for

Meld Magazine

Thu Nov 14 2013

Buying a second hand cars, Australia

IT may come as a surprise to some, but most people looking for a second-hand car will buy according to price and quality rather than safety options or standards. Do your research before you buy to avoid being ripped off, says Daniel Driscoll. 

Buying a second hand cars, Australia

Buying a second-hand car can be a daunting experience. Whether you are looking to purchase your first car or have been down this road before, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself. How much have you got to spend? What model are you looking for? Do you want to buy from a private seller or a dealership? Once you have answered these questions, you can begin your search.

Buying from a Dealer

Deciding to buy from a dealership generally involves less hassle, but will most likely see you paying more than if you decided to buy from a private seller as stamp duty comes as a standard charge with dealership sold cars. There are, however, benefits to this option. You can trade in your old car and avoid the trouble of trying to sell it before or after making your next purchase.

The Consumer Affairs Victoria website advises that “the trader must repair any faults covered during the warranty period in order to ensure the car is in a reasonable condition for its age”. Some will even throw in extras such as roadside assist.

Repco Authorised Service manager Tony Mayiolo says customers should expect to receive a title, guaranteeing it has never been stolen or encumbered (monies owing).  The car will come with registration and a road worthy certificate. Mr Mayiolo advises students to “never buy without a roadworthy”. The benefit, he says, of buying from a dealer is that “a dealer will provide a statutory warranty on items, depending on price”.

Buying Privately

Buying from a private seller can be a different experience, and a degree of haggling can be involved in coming to an agreed price. Spend time exploring your options to find a great car for a great price.

It is also recommended that you do due diligence before you buy to avoid being ripped off. Cars are not always sold with registration or a roadworthy certificate and owners are not always honest in telling you whether the car you are buying is free of previous damage or still under a current finance arrangement. Finding the answer to these queries requires some research.

Mr Mayiolo says there have been instances where backpackers unfortunately have been “stooged and lied to”, like one who bought a car off another backpacker for $7500.

“The car was sold without a road worthy certificate and when an inspection was carried out the car was found not to be roadworthy,” he says.

Backpackers unfortunately get stooged and lied to… The car was sold without a road worthy certificate and when an inspection was carried out the car was found not to be roadworthy.” – Tony Mayiolo, Repco Authorised Service

Doing Your Research

While searching for a car it is recommended to look over multiple sites in order to compare prices, kilometres, condition and whether it comes with registration or a roadworthy certificate.

A good place to start is An average price can be found for any car between 1960 and now. Some of the more commonly used sites include,,, and Both private sellers and dealerships sell their cars on these sites. Some of these such as and also include owner reviews and a guide to buying both new and used cars.

The Used Car Safety Ratings (UCSR) can also be taken into account. These ratings give consumers essential information about a vehicle’s capacity for protecting the driver, passengers, and other road users in the event of a crash. Using a combination of this information, the ANCAP safety ratings, which crash test specific models of cars under controlled conditions and the Choice used car safety ratings, cars are rated out of 5 stars and offer the option of comparing up to five vehicles at a time.

A final option to look at when deciding what car to choose is the Australia’s Best Cars 2013 list. Australian Automobile Association chief executive Andrew McKellar says these are the “best cars in their respective categories based on safety, value for money and performance”.

Buying a second hand cars, Australia

Looking at Safety Options

It may come as a surprise to some, but most people looking for a second-hand car will buy according to price and quality rather than safety options or standards, according to car salesman David Nicholas of Brian Duke Car Sales.

There are safety features that should be looked at when buying a car. Depending on the age, some or all of the following features may be included as standard. Choice recommends looking for front, side, curtain and knee airbags, seat belts designed to work with airbags, crumple zones, collapsible steering columns and high-strength materials in the structure of the vehicle.

There are also features that help drivers to avoid a crash and include automatic braking, pedestrian detection, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), lane departure warning, blind spot warning, traction control and brake assist. The more features included, the safer the car will likely be in an accident or may assist in avoiding an accident completely.

When buying any car, always go and have a look, and if possible, obtain a third-party inspection. Take someone with you, because two sets of eyes are always better than one. Check out the exterior, engine bay and interior. Ask to take the car for a test drive and inspect the car in full daylight where marks, dents and other defects are clearly visible.

However, Mr Mayiolo says interested buyers may want to consider bringing the car to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection, which could cost between $160 and $260.

Performing a Background Check

When buying privately, it is recommended that you get a free registration check done through the VicRoads website. The VIN number is required for this check. VIN numbers can be found on plates riveted to the chassis or frame, stamped into the chassis or firewall or etched on the bottom corner of the front windscreen, and also on the vehicle’s licence plate. If you cannot locate the VIN, a mechanic may be able to assist you or you can call the car’s manufacturer or request the vehicle owner to confirm the location of the VIN as described in the vehicle’s manual.

Entering this information will tell you the VIN/chassis number, engine number, make, colour, body type and year of manufacture. It will also give you the registration status (current, expired, suspended or cancelled). Choice recommends doing a more detailed history check on the Personal Properties Securities Register. This check costs a small fee but will give you a more detailed background of the vehicle. It will tell you whether the vehicle has an encumbrance status (monies owing), vehicle details (such as make and model), registration status, stolen status and written off status.

Doing your research, taking your time and asking the right questions can be the difference between buying a bomb or a dream machine. Whether you decide to buy from a dealer or private seller, a quick visit to a mechanic and a background check will see you driving away in a car that is safe, free of problems, and all yours.