Buying a car that’s been owned by somebody else can be daunting, especially if you don’t have the mechanical knowledge to assess the condition of the car that you’re looking at.

There are some checks you can make yourself to find out whether you’re buying a liability or a reliable vehicle.

Warning Signs For A Second-Hand Car

Here are a few checks you can make to ensure you aren’t buying a car that’s going to need expensive maintenance.

1. Has it been in an accident?

Asking the owner if a car has been in an accident is the first place to start, but they might not tell the truth. You can get a car history report from CarFacts.com.au for around $30 which will include a history of owners and tell you whether the car has ever been written off.

You can also visually check the car to see if panels are correctly fitted and there’s any sign of repairs or damage to the bodywork.

2. Oil or water leaks

Ideally, your car will have a full-service history. If it doesn’t, you can do some basic checks for ‘red flags’ by checking the oil and water.

You can check the oil level by removing the oil dipstick and wiping it with a rag. Then insert it into the engine oil tank. When you lift it out, the level should be between the two markings on the dipstick, and you should be able to see the dipstick through the oil.

Avoid cars with a low oil level, or with ‘dark oil’ which indicates that it hasn’t been changed regularly.

The coolant tank should be full. Any dampness inside the car is a bad sign. Don’t be afraid to ask the owner if you aren’t sure where to look.

3. Who owns the car?

When buying second hand, you want to make sure that the person selling it is the owner. Check the registration papers against the seller’s drivers license, and make sure the car has current registration.

A PPSR search can confirm who the current owner of the car is and whether there’s finance owing on the car too.

4. Does it have a timing belt or a timing chain?

Cars that have a timing belt will need to have the timing belt replaced whenever it is damaged, has to be removed to perform mechanical repairs behind it, or every 60,000 – 100,000km. This will usually cost between $1000 and $1800 and is considered a major service.

A timing chain will last much longer, and only needs to be replaced if it is damaged. The plastic guides on the chain may need to be replaced, but this isn’t too expensive, and a timing chain will often last the lifetime of the vehicle.

So why would you choose a car with a timing belt? One reason is that it can be quieter, but the cost of replacement and the potentially catastrophic damage that can occur if it breaks make this a negligible benefit.

5. Does this model have known issues?

Checking online owner review sites like Product Review or forums like Whirlpool can give you an idea of what it’s like to own the car you are considering. This way you can avoid models that have had a lot of problems.

This checklist should make you more confident about buying a car. If you do find a car that you’re happy with, you might still get your mechanic to take a look at it before you purchase.

  • The timing belt broke in my car. It is expensive! !!


  • Some good generic tips here. But no matter how careful you are or how much you know about cars, even with a mechanical check, there’s no way know you’ll find every possible damage in a vehicle.


  • I need these tips like you don’t understand! When it comes to purchasing a newer used car which I will have to soon, the process of looking and checking out cars can be somewhat daunting. Thank you for this helpful advice.


  • Thanks for the useful info. I also bought a used car Ford Territory not so long ago. That’s my second used car and I love it! I’m thinking of repainting it in our local car service here http://www.techdrivesuspension.co.nz/ in Auckland, NZ. Hope my car will look like new.


  • Was useful to read, tnx


  • No. 1 is interesting looking at if the car has been in an accident. Good to know.


  • Thanks for that. Great to keep aside for when I’m in the market for another car.


  • These are great tips I’ll definitely be keeping this on hand when I get another car.


  • Also dont trust an racv check and certification- if buying from a dealer , be sure to include warranty in your purchase.


  • Great story and tips for those in the market for a used car.


  • Good tips, but sometimes it doesn’t matter how thourough you’ve been, you can still walk away with a lemon. My daughter bought a car that had been bodged up by the seller, just fir him to make a sale. It was a lemon


  • A good list of reminders, thanks a bunch


  • Yes definitely good to know all those things so you don’t run into trouble later.


  • All good points to know,l leave it up to my partner!


  • I already knew all this..nothing new. Helpful to those that have no idea on cars though


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