Buying a used car can be exciting, but you may also be overwhelmed and worried about buying a lemon. We’ve outlined some of the most important steps in the process to help give you the confidence you need to purchase your next car.

What do you want?

Write down what you are looking for in a vehicle. For example, how many seats should it have? Automatic or manual transmission? A 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive? Determine your needs vs wants; for example if you have a large family you may require a people-mover, however, if you mostly drive in the city, you probably do not need a 4WD. Perhaps most importantly, determine your budget. Once you have established these parameters , you are ready to start searching!

Do your Research

  • Buy the car that best suits your needs and your budget. Research the market, as well as sites like Red Book, this will give you an idea of what to expect in terms of what type of cars, as well as their year, model & condition, are within your price range.
  • On average, depreciation will occur most prominently within a new car’s first few years. So typically, a three-year-old vehicle will depreciate in value up to 30-40%. A five-year-old model will depreciate up to half its original value.

Dealing with the Seller

  • Take along someone for support if you feel uneasy about meeting strangers alone.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the vehicle’s history. An honest seller won’t have anything to hide.
  • Feel free to haggle, but don’t offer a ridiculously low figure. A few hundred dollars under asking price is a standard first offer.

Check the car’s VIN

  • One of the first things you should check on a used car is the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) a 17-digit alpha-numeric code on a metal plate somewhere on the vehicle body, as well as the registration number on the car’s number plates. You will need to physically sight these & make sure they haven’t been scratched or altered in any way. Write down all of these numbers & check that they match the registration papers. If they don’t, the car you are actually buying is not the one you see in front of you and may be stolen. This needs to be reported to the police.
  • The VIN can also be checked against the database of the state in which it’s registered. In some states this is free, while in others it will cost a small fee. In Qld you can check here.

Obtain a Vehicle History Report

  • Another item to tick off your list before you buy a used car is to check that the car is debt-free. If the owner borrows the money to buy the car, the car will usually be collateral if they default on their payments. So if you purchase the car with debt owing and the owner defaults (or it is stolen) the vehicle can legally be re-possessed & you will not get your money back, even if you are now the new ‘owner’.
  • To protect yourself against this, check the Personal Property Security Register (PPSR) online. For a small fee, enter the VIN to see if the car is listed as stolen, previously written-off, and if it has previous security interest registered against it by a finance company or bank.

Check the Vehicle’s Service Books/ Papers

  • When buying a used car, ask to see the vehicle’s Safety Certificate (also known as a Roadworthy Certificate or RWC). An RWC checks the basic safety areas of the vehicle that could affect the safety and operation of the car. It reduces the likelihood of accidents caused by defects & proves that the vehicle is in a safe & legal condition.
  • The seller will need to be able to produce this document (& it should be current), as it is required by law to have one the moment the car is offered for sale. This includes formal listings, as well as informally displaying or driving the vehicle in public with a handwritten “For sale”, or “Want this?” sign. Fail to do so and they risk an on-the-spot fine of $560.
  • If you are buying a used car unregistered, you as the buyer will then be required to get an RWC as law requires one when re-registering an unregistered vehicle.
  • The seller should also be able to show the service history paperwork and registration details. (The information included should match the seller’s identification information).
  • You want to be sure the car has been well maintained & looked after. Legitimate workshops will date, sign and record the kilometres and then stamp the service or log book. If you find it is just filled in without the relevant details or stamp, it could be faked.

Check the Airbags are Safe

  • Between 1999 & 2017, nearly 2 million cars were sold in Australia with faulty Takata airbags, which can be fatal if deployed. Owners of these cars were contacted & instructed to take their cars to dealerships for free replacements, although not everyone did.
  • You can enter the rego number of the vehicle you have your eye on into  to see whether or not it is on the list. If it is, the owner should be able to produce the documentation showing that they were indeed replaced. If they cannot produce that, do not risk your safety & walk away from the deal.

Pre-purchase Inspections

  • If you have found your ideal used car & have taken the aforementioned steps to ensure the car is not a previous write-off or still has owning money etc, you should still have a qualified mechanic complete a comprehensive Pre-Purchase Inspection. Even though the car will have a Safety Certificate, it will not tell you everything you need to know.
  • A Pre-Purchase Safety Inspection examines the condition and quality of a used vehicle, so you can be rest assured you know what you are getting. Little problems can turn into larger and more expensive problems over time. Don’t risk buying a lemon! A seller may not always be upfront or even be aware of certain problems themselves. An experienced mechanic will be able to advise you of any up-coming services or repairs needed on the vehicle, and any future frequent maintenance required.
  • Burleigh’s Mobile Mechanics are experienced & certified & will examine the vehicle’s major components, including the vehicle’s engine, suspension, lights, under bonnet, tyres, brakes, inspecting the interior and exterior of the vehicle & seatbelts. They will also review the log books, take the vehicle for a test drive & provide you with a comprehensive verbal and written report.

Making the Deal & Receiving Payment

  • When buying a used car, get the deal in writing. This should include the name & address & contact details of the seller, agreed upon price, details of the car including the condition & registration, date, deposit amount & any inclusions that come with the vehicle (such as stereo system, jack & tools etc).
  • A small deposit is given to the seller to ‘hold’ the car while you arrange paperwork & balance payment. Do not pay the remainder until the owner is ready to hand over the keys. Get a signed receipt for both the deposit & later, the remaining amount.
  • The most common & secure way to make payment is through electronic transfer, bank cheque or cash.
  • When taking delivery of the vehicle, ensure all relevant extras including all keys & remotes, the vehicle’s manufacturer handbook & log book, & instruction manuals for equipment such as stereos are also supplied.

Transfer the Registration/ Paperwork

  • You will now need to transfer the registration of the vehicle into your name. You usually have to do this within a few days of buying the car. You must lodge the forms with the Department of Transport & Main Roads, but both parties need to complete the form.
  • Be fastidious when it comes to completing the paperwork. Ask the owner to see his or her licence (and check the residential address on the back) for the completion of the registration transfer.

Get Insured

Make sure you arrange insurance for the car once you’ve bought it but before you drive away.


If you need the stress taken out of buying a used car, we provide a convenient service. We can call the seller on your behalf to arrange a time for inspection and then, once completed, you will receive a phone call from us to discuss the completed report and answer any questions you may have. Our client’s safety and satisfaction are our top priority, so we will make sure you’re fully informed and understand the process. With a completed inspection report in hand from a trusted and qualified mechanic, you will be in a better buyer’s position. Make an informed decision on whether the car is worth purchasing and be confident in negotiating a fair price. With a combined experience of over 40 years in the automotive industry, Burleigh’s Mobile Mechanic pride themselves on their experience, integrity, affordability and convenient services. Call to book your pre-purchase safety inspection today on 0412 161 776 and know you are in good hands.   Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for more information, tips and specials.