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Buying Used Cars In Australia 10 Steps To Avoid Buying A Lemon

Buying a used car in Australia has a lot of advantages over a new car, but it may have defects the seller hasn't told you about. Follow our quick ten point guide to avoid buying a lemon.

1. Buy the right used car for your needs

Besides budget you also need to consider safety, security, makes and models you like, fuel consumption versus performance, running/servicing costs, travel distances, carrying passengers, power for trailers or boats, parking, space for work or sports gear.

2. Consider other "fringe" costs

Above the cost of the car bought from the seller, there is also stamp duty, registration, transfer fee, and insurance. Factor these costs in before you go shopping for a used car that you can afford.

3. Do I buy it privately, from a dealer, online or at an auction?

Private - Advantages are that it is generally cheaper as there are no overheads and you can meet and discuss the history with the owner.

Disadvantages are that there is no warranty, no security of title, no legal comeback if you buy a lemon, may have extensive concealed damage or repair work.

Dealer - Advantages are that if there is money owing or is stolen, you have recourse against the dealer, you get a warranty, you may be offered a trade in on you old car, you have a "cooling off" period if you are obtaining finance to buy a used car from a company linked to the dealer and the car is more likely to be in a road worthy condition before being offered for sale.

Disadvantages are that dealers are often more expensive, you are likely to get a poorer price as a trade in on your old car, and some dealers can be very pushy.

Online - Advantages are that you don't have to travel, plenty of information is available on pricing, you sometimes get colour photos of the used car, you can buy in most areas of Australia, and you don't have to negotiate face to face.

Disadvantages are you may not be able to see and test drive the vehicle, particularly if you are buying interstate.

Auctions - Advantages are that they may be cheaper and have a guarantee of title

Disadvantages are that it may be subject to an auction fee, may also have to re-register the car and get a roadworthy certificate, there is no warranty, can't test drive, no legal comeback if you buy a lemon.

4. Take someone with you and get an inspection.

Two pairs of eyes and ears are better than one and it helps strengthen your negotiations if you have someone on your side, particularly if they know more about cars than you do. Preferably take along a mechanic or pay for an inspection. It usually saves you a lot of time and heartache and is well worth the money. A qualified person will identify poor repairs and rust, faulty electrical wiring, exhaust, engine noises, tyres wheel and brake faults, car interior linings, seat belts and window operation.

5. Check the ownership

In NSW Australia call R.E.V.S. REVS stands for the Register of Encumbered Vehicles. It is a statutory public register which assists the general public, the finance sector and the motor trade. REVS is a business service provided by the NSW Office of Fair Trading which can tell you if a motor vehicle or boat you are thinking of buying is carrying a debt. In order to do a REVS check you must supply :

1. Registration Number if vehicle is registered
2. VIN or chassis number
3. Engine number

To ensure the accuracy of the vehicle you should obtain the details from the vehicle and compare them with the details on the registration papers.

For a fee of $12.00 a REVS Search Certificate, which gives you conditional legal protection against repossession due to the previous owner's unpaid debt, is available to you for purchase online. You can also purchase a certificate from the REVS call centre on (02) 9633 6333 (Sydney) or (1800) 424 988 (Country) 7 days a week. Call centre hours are, weekdays from 8:30am to 5:30pm and weekends from 9am to 5pm.

The owner must provide you with a pink slip inspection report current for the month.

6. Take it for a test drive

Take the car for a drive on a quiet road and listen for engine noise. Does it brake, steer and handle correctly? Is the suspension ok? Try a reverse park, hill start and a 3 point turn. Brake hard once or twice on an isolated section of the road at around 40 kph. Did it handle correctly or veer to one side?

7. Negotiate the best deal

Remember that while you still have the money in your pocket, you're the boss! Do your homework before you set out to purchase a used car and know what the average prices are. If they are in the ball park, offer a price slightly lower and mention that you have seen better deals elsewhere if this is correct. If they don't budge, mention the costs for repair and wait for them to talk. Depending on how much you want the car, make a slightly higher offer or ask if they could throw in something like new tires for free. If they still won't budge, walk away. There are plenty of other cars in the market and it is likely there are better deals nearby.

8. Paying the money

Taking cash is a great way to negotiate as the sight of a wad of notes may be an incentive for a cash strapped seller. It may also be a security risk, so if you are unsure, pay by a bank cheque. If you can't raise the money from your own reserves, shop around for the best finance deal online. A good resource for borrowing money at the best rate is <a href="https://" target="_blank"></a> Always get a receipt from the seller with a statement that the vehicle is unencumbered by any loans or finance. Talk to your accountant about the best way to purchase the vehicle if it is to be used for your business. They may advise you that a chattel mortgage is often the best way to borrow for this purpose, depending on your circumstances.

9. Transfer the registration

Once the sale has been agreed on, the registration must be transferred to the new owner. Make sure the seller gives you the pink slip and completes the disposal notice, then take them to the R.T.A. and pay for the transfer. Instructions on how to do this are on the reverse of the registration papers.

10. Before you drive away

Make sure you get all the keys for the car (ignition keys with transformers are expensive to duplicate). Get the service book, owner's manual and log book.
If there's an alarm, find out how to de-activate it. Is there a hidden ignition switch? Ask the owner or dealer if there is anything else to know about your new used car. You may be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised at the response!

Handy phone numbers and online details

NRMA Vehicle Inspections
13 11 22
Get a thorough report on the car's mechanics and condition from our experts at NRMA. Vehicle Inspection bookings can be made seven days a week, between 7 am and 10 pm for Sydney, the Central Coast, Newcastle, Wollongong and Canberra. In country areas, phone 13 11 22 for your nearest NRMA inspection service.
<a href="https://" target="_blank"></a>

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Check for stolen parts, that the registration is current and that the seller is the registered owner.
Visit the RTA website <a href="https://" target="_blank"></a> or e-mail the RTA. <a href=""></a>

1800 424 988 or (02) 9633 6333
Check no money is owed on the car. Have the Certificate of Registration handy when you call.
Visit the REVS website <a href="https://" target="_blank"></a> or e-mail REVS <a href=""></a>

NRMA Insurance
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Get insurance cover before you drive away. Call NRMA Insurance 7am-10pm, seven days a week.
Get an online insurance quote <a href="https://" target="_blank"></a> or email NRMA <a href="" target="_blank"></a>

© <a href="https://" target="_blank"></a> Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin & Hobart Australia
About Author Bruce Gow :

Bruce Gow is an Australian search engine marketer and does search engine optimization for websites such as He has completed extensive research on used cars in both Australia and the USA, but is NOT a used car dealer. Please see our privacy policy and legal statement at You can reach him at for all used car inquiries or SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) inquires in Australia or the USA.

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Article Added on Wednesday, November 8, 2006
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