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The Ultimate Used Car Buyer’s Checklist: Post

blog large image - The Ultimate Used Car Buyer’s Checklist

The Ultimate Used Car Buyer’s Checklist

Buying a used car. It makes sense considering your budget. It makes sense considering your needs. And it makes sense to make your used car purchase from a dealer.

Sure. You may find a slightly better price from a private seller. But you’re really rolling the dice.

With private sellers, there’s no statutory warranty. Drive away and five minutes later the wheels fall off? You’re out of luck. And out of options.

In NSW, there’s a dealer guarantee on all vehicles (excluding motorcycles) less than 10 years old and driven less than 160,00km. You’re covered for 5,000km or three months after the purchase. Whichever comes first.

With private sales, a clear title of the vehicle isn’t guaranteed either. So any faults found won’t be covered by Fair Trading. And you’re stuck with no legal backup.

The same goes for picking up a used car at auction.

You can’t test drive the car. It may or may not come with a warranty. And you probably won’t be able to have it inspected thoroughly right then and there on the day of the auction.

Buying from a dealership also makes it easier to trade-in your current car. If you have one. Leveraging your current vehicle as a trade-in will not only save you cash up front off the price of the car you’re buying. But it also relieves you of the hassles of having to unload it as a private seller yourself.


You’ve been visiting the local dealerships. Strolling the lots. When finally, something catches your eye.

It’s exactly what you were looking for. The price is right. But before you sign on the dotted line, there’s a couple of things you’ll want to check twice before striking a deal.

1. Engine Check

When taking the car for a test drive, you’ll want to make sure that the engine runs smoothly (and quietly) while driving and when idling.  

Check the oil dipstick too. You’ll want to see nice, honey-coloured oil. Unless it’s a diesel, where black oil is normal. Ask to see the service book to confirm that the car has been serviced regularly.

Have a look around the oil filler cap. If there’s a white, creamy substance present, it could mean the engine needs closer inspection.

2. Tyre Check

Make sure all tyres - spare included - are in good visible condition and displaying even wear. Tread depth should be above minimum wear indicators.

The condition of the tyres can also tell you a lot about the car’s suspension. Excessive wear on one shoulder of a tyre might be a sign that the vehicle’s wheel alignment is out.

3. Lights Check

Taillights, indicators, number plate lights, park lights and reverse lights should all be in good working order.

You’ll also want to make sure that none of the warning lights on the instrument panel are lit when the car is running.

4. Radiator Coolant and Fluid Check

With the engine cold, remove the radiator coolant cap and check that the coolant is clean and brightly coloured and free of any rust.

You’ll also want to check under the car and around the engine compartment for any signs of coolant, oil or other fluid leaks.

5. Exhaust Check

Smoke is a bad thing. So are undue noises and knocking sounds that come from underneath the car. These could be indicators of an exhaust system issue.

6. Equipment Check

Different cars have different accessories. And you’ll want to make sure that all of them work. So be sure to test things like the air conditioning, fans, parking sensors, reverse camera, power windows, the navigation system and stereo.

You’ll also want to make sure that the car’s jack and tool kit are in place and in good working condition.

7. Seat Belt Check

Safety comes first. So confirm that seat belts are in good condition; that locking mechanisms work and that the belts extend and retract smoothly.

8. Body Check

Check that all doors open and close easily. And latch firmly. This includes the bonnet and boot, or tailgate.

Check the body for any loose, misaligned or mismatched panels. Make sure there is no evidence of rust, crash repairs or hail damage. Inspect the exterior for things like paint overspray, dents, ripples or creases.

You’ll want to make sure that there are no signs of extreme off-road use.

A faded paint job could mean that the car has spent more time exposed to the elements than it has being properly garaged. And bumps and scrapes could indicate that a previous owner was overall reckless with handling the car.

That’s why you always want to schedule an inspection during daylight hours. Never in the dark when it’s raining. Imperfections are easy to conceal when conditions aren’t optimal.

9. Interior Check

Look for any damage, stains, wear and tear or cracks to the car’s interior plastics, upholstery and carpet. Use your best judgement to determine whether or not wear to the interior is consistent with the age and kilometres of the car.

The car should definitely be clean and free of any odd smells. A clean interior tells you that the car has likely been well looked after.

10. Vehicle Identification Check

The car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) should match the VIN on all registration papers. It’s also a good idea to confirm the vehicle’s build and compliance dates.


After a thorough check, it’s time to take the car for a test drive. This is another great opportunity to try out a few additional checks that will help confirm that the used car you’re considering is right for you.

Be sure to start the engine when it’s cold. If the car has already been warmed up, it could mask issues like poor starting or smoke. Both indicators of engine wear.

Test the transmission. You’ll want to be sure that it shifts up and down smoothly. For manual transmissions, confirm that the clutch actuates smoothly and doesn’t slip.

Try the car out on different surfaces. And try to drive it at highway speeds. You’ll want a good indication of how it behaves in all conditions.

Try testing the handbrake on a steep hill to ensure it’s working properly.

Buying a used car from the dealership is a great way to get a good price on a quality vehicle. And with the Ultimate Used Car Buyer’s Checklist, you know what to look for, so you’ll be able to enjoy affordable, trouble-free motoring for years to come.