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Used car checklist: What to look for when buying a used car

Family and Social

In the market for a quality car without the high price tag? Buying a used car can be a money saver – if you know what to look out for.

Our advice to avoid buying a lemon? Put together a list of things to check and questions you can ask the seller. There’s a lot to look over, and it’s always best to inspect a car during daylight so you can clearly spot any dents or scratches.

To make it easy for you, we’ve put together a used car checklist, which includes simple checks you can do and what to look out for when shopping around for a used car.

Used car checklist – exterior check

Things you should look at when checking the outside of the vehicle include:

  • Check the paintwork for no variations in colour, chips, bubbles or rust.

  • Check the panels for dents and irregularities.

  • Is the windscreen free from chips or cracks?

  • Do the doors and boot open and close properly?

  • Any sign of hail damage?

  • Take a look at the tyres to ensure even tread. Uneven tread often means poor alignment, which can present steering, suspension or frame issues.

  • Look under the car for any oil leaks, rust or damage (this is good to do after taking the car out for a test drive)

  • Are the headlights and taillights working properly?

Used car checklist – under the hood

It’s a good idea to get your trusty mechanic to professionally inspect the used car before buying. If you’re confident, you may want to do your own initial check to make sure there are no signs of leaks or wear and tear:

  • Check the oil level

  • Check coolant level and colour (it should be brightly coloured and clean).

  • Check all other fluids – power steering, brake, transmission and battery.

  • Is the radiator free from corrosion?

  • Do the hoses/ tubes have any splits or cracks?

Used car checklist – interior check

  • Check the odometer – a car with high mileage is likely to have more wear and tear on its mechanical components. The average car racks up around 20,000km a year.

  • Are the seats secure and seatbelts in good condition?

  • Look at the condition of the upholstery

  • Look under the carpets for any corrosion

  • Does the vehicle have a spare tyre?

Used car checklist – test drive

It goes without saying that you should test drive the car. From starting the ignition to on the road, make sure you check the following:

  • Is the car easy to start – no vibrations, rattling or whistling?

  • Do any warning lights pop up on the dashboard?

  • See if all the electronics are in working order – central locking, windows, indicators, windscreen wipers, side mirrors, radio, air conditioning and lights.

  • Is there any exhaust smoke coming out?

  • Does the engine sound okay and appear to run smoothly without any irregular noises?

  • Test the brakes – are they working properly?

  • Does the steering wheel pull properly to the right and left?

  • Does the steering wheel vibrate or shudder?

  • Check the suspension and transmission for noises, rattles or knocks.

  • If it’s an automatic transmission, check to see if the gears change seamlessly

  • If it’s a manual transmission, check whether the clutch depresses fully without noises, that it doesn’t slip under acceleration and that it doesn’t shudder from a hill start.

  • Is the speedometer working and displaying your speed.

  • Do the temperature dials show any signs of overheating?

Some questions to ask the seller

  • Why are you selling?

  • How old is the car?

  • How many kilometres has it done?

  • Is the car still under warranty?

  • Ask to have a look at the service history

  • What is the registration on the vehicle?

  • How many owners has the vehicle had?

  • Has the vehicle been in any car accidents? If so, which parts were damaged?

  • Do you own the car outright?

  • Have you replaced any parts recently?

  • Has the vehicle been modified in any way?

Check vehicle history

Once you’ve got as much info from the seller as possible, do your own research. If you’re buying privately, do a quick motor vehicle search on the People Property Security Register (PPSR), previously known as a VIN check. This will tell you whether the owner of the car is as per the registration papers. It can also tell you whether the vehicle was previously involved in an accident or if there are any outstanding loans on it.

Ready to buy but need to apply for a car loan?

If you’re looking to finance your used car purchase, Fair Go Finance can help! We offer you a hassle-free car loan of up to $20,000.

Get in touch with us or apply online now.