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Positive Used Car Buyer’s Guide

Filed under Information Centre

Buying a used vehicle comes with a host of concerns.

Here is a helpful used car checklist to reduce your concerns and avoid future issues. Check the following when you inspect a used vehicle your looking to buy:


Check wear indicators (raised ridges running across the tread pattern). If flush with the tread pattern, the tyres need replacing. The minimum tread depth in most Australian states is 1.5mm.


1: When cold, listen carefully to how it starts, it should not struggle or be delayed.

2: With the engine off, check the oil dipstick. The oil should be correctly filled and not too dirty. Note that blacker oil is normal in diesels.

3: Check the engine belts are not frayed or damaged.

4: Check for any coolant (usually a green colour) or other stains or spills on engine.

*Ideally, you want to see a clean, well maintained engine bay.


1: Check all doors, windows, bonnet and boot open and close correctly.

2: Check panel gaps. Gaps between body panels should be straight and even. Uneven gaps can indicate previous accident damage.

3: Scratches / faded paint can be expensive to fix, view the car in daylight to make sure it’s in good condition.

4: Scratch ‘water test’. Splash water over a scratch, if not visible when wet, it indicates a clear coat scratch which usually buff out with polish.


1: Make sure seat adjustments, seatbelts and upholstery is working / in good condition.

2: Check for cracks in plastic surfaces, eg: dashboard.


1: Owner’s manual: Make sure the matching owner’s manual is with the vehicle. Most vehicles include an extra Australian booklet for interior gadgets.

2: Service history: Ideally, a full, documented service history with dates, noting work that was completed. All work should have been undertaken by a qualified mechanic.

3: VIN check: Purchase a PPSR online to make sure there’s no finance owing on the vehicle and it has never been reported stolen or written off.

Test Drive:

1: Listen to acceleration, it should be smooth without noticeable vibrations / stuttering.

2: Make sure the brakes aren’t squeaking - indicates they need replacing.

3: If safe, check driver assist features like emergency braking, lane departure warning and cruise control.

4: Make sure the handbrake holds the vehicle, transmission / gearbox work smoothly.


When you start noticing signs that you need an upgrade, a quality second-hand car can be a good option. If the vehicle you’re looking at does not pass the majority of the above checks, consider a better condition example. This can result in years of trouble free motoring and with less repair costs.

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