The Playbook For The Modern Man

What No One Tells You About Buying A Second Hand Car

Your guide to avoiding heartache and a leaky bank account.

Buying a second-hand car could either be the best or worst decision of your life. On one side of the road is the wheels of your dreams, scooped at a bargain. On the other? Heartache and a leaky bank account.

A longtime public transport advocate sufferer, I recently bought my first ever car. Throughout my Gumtree ordeal, Carsales quackery and latest $1,800 trip to the mechanic (a grand total of two weeks after purchasing it), I now feel qualified to pass judgement on the whole process of buying a second-hand car.

Here’s everything I learnt – what no one tells you about buying a second-hand car in Australia.

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You spend more time looking than buying

I spent my first few weeks looking at cars that weren’t right for me, wasting three valuable weekends in the process.

I also didn’t know what I was looking for at this point, and so key details I should have been able to check in real-time I found myself asking via text later.

I also forgot to check the VIN. Always check the VIN.

Same goes for windows, air-con and hazard lights.

Kilometres are key

Create a plan and stick to it: work out your budget, then ask someone who knows about cars (ideally a friend who is also a second-hand car salesperson) what a fair amount of kilometres is for a car at that price.

Then, don’t waste your time looking at cars out of that range (or that you don’t think you could negotiate into it).

The logbook is your best friend

If the glove box is just a bunch of loose receipts, forget it.

Test driving other peoples’ cars is a risky business

Don’t curb someone else’s car unless you’re prepared to pay them $60 (or spend the rest of the week feeling guilty).

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When they tell you, “it got keyed by workmen,” it means “I’ve been careless with my car”

Sure enough: when I checked underneath this car which was advertised as “shabby exterior” but impeccable mechanical condition, it had a puddle of oil the size of Lake Macquarie underneath.

If someone is half an hour late, it tells you all you need to know about them

Get outta there.

If someone is pressuring you to buy…

Also get out of there.

If something seems too good to be true, it is

As I discovered when the 2010 Subaru Forester with significantly less kilometres than all the others in my price range turned out to be unregistered, in a different suburb to the one it was advertised in and being sold “for a friend of a friend”, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t bother with unregistered vehicles

Major red flag. Also, too hard.

The pre-inspection hurts… but is worth it

This is where you lose a bit of power to gain a bit of power. If you get a pre-purchase inspection the seller knows you have committed $400 to their cause. However, it also helps you negotiate from an informed standpoint (especially if you know nothing about cars).

Obviously, if you’re buying a second-hand car over 10k, getting it pre-inspected is a no brainer. However, if you are buying something on the cheap many people say it’s not worth paying $400, which can be up to a quarter of the car’s entire value, just to get it checked by the NRMA.

I felt like I had wasted a lot of money with my pre-inspection until they found up to AU$1,000 of problems I hadn’t factored into my negotiations, leaving me in a much better position to bargain.

Throw tactics back at ’em

When you actually come to buying the car, you can throw the seller’s “we have someone else coming to see it tomorrow” tactics back at them by offering a price and saying “this offer is good for 24 hours.”

Get your parking permit before you buy

Same goes for insurance.

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