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Car Insurance

02 Jan 2020

What to look for when buying a used car

There's a lot to consider when buying a used car - from how old it is to how many kilometres it has done. Here are some key things to look out for and how to pick the right one for you.

Important questions to consider when you first start your vehicle search:

  • How old is the car?
  • How many previous owners has it had?
  • How many kilometres has it done?
  • Are there any obvious/less obvious faults with it?
  • Has the car ever been in an accident? If yes, to what degree was it damaged?
  • Has it been modified? (Remember, this can affect your car insurance)

Before you get to the dealership

Whether you’re going to a dealership to buy your car or buying a car privately, before you begin your hunt it’s important to determine what you want in a vehicle. What is your ideal budget? How much are you willing to negotiate? Do you want a small car to take you from A to B or a luxury SUV with leather trim and heated front seats? It is worth considering all the features you want and the ones you can do without, so you are not swayed by other factors.

Choosing a car

You’re going to see a lot of cars before you pick the one you’re likely to buy. It’s important to examine the vehicle closely – and it’s a good idea to bring along another friend or family member with you to help you. Walk around the car and take note of its overall appearance from the paint right down to the trim. Issues like misalignment and loose components won’t inspire confidence in the quality or craftsmanship of a vehicle. Some things to look out for include:

  • The type of fuel (petrol, diesel or hybrid)
  • Paint job and any scratches or dents or even rust
  • Interiors – wear, stains or holes in the upholstery
  • Rust or cracks under the hood
  • The car’s service history – this will give an indication of any problems and repairs in the past
  • Examine the tyres for even wear and alignment

Going for a spin

A salesperson may try to convince you that the car you’re looking at is the greatest thing on four wheels, but going for a test drive is the best way to get a feel of the car and how it drives. When you go for a test drive, you should be looking and listening out for any strange sounds, unusual sensations or anything that feels out of place. You also want to get a feel for the handling, braking, power, and, depending on how dedicated a car worshipper you are, the personality of the car.

The salesperson may be speaking while you’re driving, which can distract you from the experience, so it’s a good idea to let them talk when you’re at the dealership rather than on the road. Here are a few things to look out for while driving:

1. Transmission effectiveness

If the car has a manual transmission then look out for smooth, precise gear changes and clutch action. For an automatic vehicle take note of the upshifts and downshifts between auto gear changes. Ideally, there shouldn’t be abrupt jolts or swaying.

2. Engine power

Power is important to many car owners, but it’s not just about having the most powerful vehicle. Sometimes a car is too powerful and doesn’t suit your needs. If a car doesn’t accelerate as fast as you want it to, or if it goes too fast at a light touch of the pedal, if it makes you feel uneasy in any way, it may be worth looking elsewhere. It is also worth noting that depending on the engine size, things like air conditioning can affect the power so it’s a good idea to switch on the air con while driving to see if you notice any changes in engine power.

3. Drive quality

If possible it is a good idea to also drive on different roads to see how the car responds differently on various surfaces. Dirt roads, gravel roads, winding roads, city streets and freeways are some examples of different surface roads. Take note of any sounds or vibrations you may experience.

4. Handling

Good handling should mean a stable ride. The steering wheel should not be jerky or sensitive and there shouldn’t be a lag when turning or adjusting the wheel.

5. Braking

Braking is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects of driving, if your brakes are squeaking, are too strong or too weak they may have to be replaced. Do not be concerned or put off by the idea of having to get some parts fixed. Buying a used car can mean replacing certain components, and sometimes the costs involved are worth it.

Some other tips to consider:

  • Remember you don’t have to pay the marked price for a car. You can negotiate and you may be able to get at least $1500 off the original price
  • Interesting tip, but often a car may seem more appealing when it is in the lot. Park the vehicle after your test drive and examine its appearance outside the dealership
  • It’s important to investigate your insurance options prior to purchasing the car and ensure you have the right policy (or cover note) in place before you start driving it


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† Up to 15% discount consists of 3 parts: 5% first year discount, 5% off for online applicants (both of these are first year only), and up to 5% off to exclude drivers under 25. Minimum premiums may reduce savings discount. Any part, or all, of the 15% discount offer can be withdrawn at any time.

Benefits are subject to the terms and conditions including the limits and exclusions of the insurance policy. Any advice provided is general only and may not be right for you. Before you purchase this product you should carefully read the Car Insurance Product Disclosure Statement and consider the Target Market Determination to decide if it is right for you.