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Buying a used car? Ultimate used car buying guide includes a checklist, action steps and receipt forms to go second-hand car shopping knowing what to inspect.

You’re in need of a decent used car but don’t want to spend too much. There are some ways you can save without sacrificing quality but it may require a bit of research.

Luckily, we’ve compiled a step-by-step used car buying guide checklist to help you buy your next used car. But first, here are some things to consider when buying a used car.

Car classified companies like have helped educate second-hand car buyers and give them confidence. They have also been able to do this by making the whole used car buying experience easier mainly due to the internet.

Their online car buying tools like car reviews, car valuations, car safety ratings, purchase prices and general information can come in handy for choosing a make and model and how much to pay. Also, the car loan and car insurance comparison tools let you research and compare before you head out into the marketplace.

But, the downside to buying a used car from a private seller or buying a car at auction is that you have to do the necessary vehicle identification number (VIN) checks. Also, a mechanical check so you know if the vehicle is in good condition or if it’s a lemon.

What To Do When Buying A Used Car?

Start by downloading my free ‘Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit’.

Your FREE Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit Includes:

  • A logical sequence that you can follow quickly and easily
  • 7 action steps to take
  • Used car inspection checklist to use
  • Buyer’s and seller’s receipt forms you can complete

The buying a used car checklist pdf (printable) helps you with the things to look for when buying a used car. By identifying the key areas of the car that you need to look at during your vehicle inspection you can do this quickly and easily. Also, if you have a shortlist of vehicles say 2 or 3 cars to look at you can use it to find what you think is the best car.

Don’t worry if you know zero about cars the checklist for buying a used car includes 7 important necessary steps to follow so you will be buying a car like a professional. Knowing what to check when buying a used car in a logical sequence before you go car shopping will save you time, money and headaches.

How To Check PPSR Report

Before you go to inspect the list of cars on your shortlist do a PPSR check to see if the vehicle you’re thinking of buying is:

  • debt free
  • not stolen
  • not written off

The best way to check is to do a free PPSR check and get the official Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) report for free.

What To Inspect When Buying A Used Car

Used cars can have a lot of wear and tear, but it is not always possible to tell what kind of condition they are in. In order to get the most out of your purchase, you should take the time to thoroughly inspect them before buying. I want you to stop thinking that you are buying a second-hand car but instead, you are buying unused kilometres. You see a car isn’t any good to you if it has no unused kilometres left. The car may look great but underneath there is nothing left in other words it’s all been used.

Service History

Look for regular replacement service items that have been replaced and the date they were replaced on. Here is a list:

Engine oil

is important to prevent premature engine wear. If the engine oil is used beyond the specified period, contamination causing greater friction of metal parts in the engine occurs. A regular engine oil change is important for the future life of any engine.

The Engine Oil Filter

is usually done at the same time the engine oil is replaced.

Air filter

is important because it maintains the inside of the engine by keeping it free of dust, insects and pollutants. Clean air is one of the things your car needs other than fuel.

Fuel filter

replacement is important because it keeps the entire fuel system clean and free of foreign matter so the correct amount can enter the engine.

Spark plugs

are important not only for engine performance and fuel economy but for other electrical components as well. If the spark plugs are used beyond the specified miles resistance builds and makes the ignition coil and spark plug leads work much harder.

The typical replacement interval depends on the manufacturer and the type of spark plug used. Some manufacturers use a platinum spark plug or a combination of platinum and standard. Platinum spark plugs have a replacement interval of approximately 60,000 miles and standard spark plugs are approximately 30,000km.

Drive belt/s

are usually external belts with no covers and are located at the very front of the engine in front of the timing belt covers or timing chain covers. The belts connect the engine rotation to drive the alternator, power steering, and air conditioning. There is no specific interval to replace them but to inspect and adjust. A typical drive belt replacement can range from $50 to $150 depending on how many belts.

Timing belt

is hidden behind covers at the front of the engine. Its job is to connect the bottom of the engine to the top of the engine and hence the name keeps the engine and components in time.

The timing belt requires replacement at a specific interval by the manufacturer which is usually around 100,000 km. A typical timing belt replacement can range from $300 upwards. If the belt is not replaced and it breaks or slips the consequences can be very costly as many engines interference meaning piston to valve contact takes place if the engine becomes out of time.

Note: Not all vehicles have timing belts but a timing chain instead. Apart from adjustments that can be made on certain engines, there is usually no specific replacement interval for timing chains therefore replacement is only necessary when the timing chain tensioner and guides wear making a tinny noise when the engine is idling.

Brake pads/Brake shoes

service life is usually between 40,000 to 80,000 kilometres with the front brake pads usually wearing faster than the rear. Most modern cars all have disc brakes which means they have brake pads. Most times the driver will hear a disc brake squeal when applying the brakes indicating the pad thickness has reached its minimum thickness.

A typical front brake pad only replacement for most common makes of vehicles is around $150 and a similar price for the rear brakes. European vehicles are much more costly in this area as the brake component materials used are softer compounds. Once the vehicle reaches its second brake pad change usually new rotors or discs are required at around $150 each for one rotor/disc on most common vehicles but much dearer for European vehicles.

Brake fluid

Is a specially blended hydraulic fluid that transfers pressure to the main braking components like the wheel cylinders and callipers. Brake fluid becomes contaminated over time reducing its characteristics and must be replaced at specific intervals depending on the vehicle manufacturer.

Usually, the replacement interval is 2 years or 40,000 km whichever occurs first.
Brake fluid replacement is approximately $100


(Radiator Antifreeze/Anti boil/Inhibitor) is a mixture of water and antifreeze (ethylene glycol) which lowers the freezing point of the water in the cooling system. Coolant prevents rust and corrosion, lubricates the water pump, and picks up heat from the engine, transferring it to air passing through the radiator preventing the engine from overheating. The coolant needs to be changed annually in cold climates and every couple of years in warmer climates.

Coolant replacement is approximately $150.

Test drive

Finally, you should take it for a test drive and ask questions about any issues or problems that arise during your test drive. During this time, you should make sure that there are no strange sounds coming from under the hood or when you apply brakes. A test drive can also reveal problems with suspension, steering, braking and other issues related to safety.

How to check if the kilometres are genuine?

Put simply, check that the condition of the car inside, outside, in the engine bay, in the boot and underneath is consistent with the age and miles travelled. Average kilometres depend on how the vehicle is used, private use, company use, location, city, or country.

Average private use is 15,000 kilometres every 12 months but higher within 12 months if company use. Also if the speedometer shows 100,000 kilometres but the interior has excessive wear, like the seats, armrests and pedal pads then the speedometer may have been tampered with or replaced.

As you can see now a vehicle with a service book or company invoices are important documents to the buyer and the seller.

For the buyer-
It gives you a window into the vehicle’s history
It gives you a resale tool

For the seller-
It is an important sales tool that is money!

If the seller was selling the vehicle to a car dealer without a service history book or Service/repair invoices the seller can lose up to $4,000 in the $20,000 price bracket.

Paperwork When Buying A Car Privately

Included in your Free Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit you can use the receipt forms. Having both buyer’s and seller’s receipt forms can help you avoid any misunderstanding and protect you from any car-selling scams that may be around.

Before handing over your money it is important to check that the seller’s identification (driver’s license) details match the details on the registration papers and all the vehicle identifiers including rego, VIN, engine number, make, model, year, colour and any other information on the registration certificate matches the vehicle details.

Using The Receipt Forms

Complete Vehicle Details:

Record the vehicle’s identification particulars that you get from the car itself.

  • Record the registration number, engine number, vehicle identification number (VIN) or chassis number from the vehicle’s body/chassis, manufacturer plate and compliance plate. You can usually find the VIN number etched into the body or chassis and the engine number on the engine block (the main part of the engine). If you have problems ask the manufacturer or your local service station/mechanic.
  • Now check them against the seller’s ownership papers like registration papers, roadworthy certificates or safety certificates, car history reports (PPSR) e.t.c (see below):
  1. Using the PPSR report you got.
  2. Confirm registration number plates, engine and VIN (Chassis numbers pre 1981) numbers from the car itself match those on the seller’s registration certificate and PPSR report.
  3. Ask yourself, Is the vehicle really the one it is supposed to be?
  4. Check if the vehicle was used as a taxi or rent-a-car.
  5. Demand to have a copy of any required documents that outline the road-worthiness/safety of the vehicle that may be required by any state or jurisdiction. You may need these to transfer registration from the seller to the buyer depending on your area. If you don’t you will be buying an unregistered vehicle.

Complete The Seller’s Details:

Make sure the person selling the car is the real owner of the car. Determine this by asking for the seller’s driving license or any other forms of identity.

What To Do If The Seller Has An Encumbrance On The Vehicle?

If the seller has an encumbrance (financial security interest) on the vehicle DO NOT hand over any money to the seller. Follow my post buying a car with finance owing in 3 steps.

If the seller needs to use the money from the buyer to cover the encumbrance, the quickest, safest and easiest way is to travel to the bank or lending institute together to complete the transaction. A bank officer will facilitate the transfer.

Watch the video below to see what happens If a private seller still has money owing on their vehicle when you buy it, there is the risk that it can be repossessed later. To avoid this, you should negotiate with the current owner on what will happen to the finance before making a decision to buy.

Some Frequently Asked Questions?
What is the best guideline before purchasing a used vehicle?

A lot of factors go into the used car purchasing decisions. The first thing to consider is the vehicle’s age and its kilometres. If it has close to 100,000 kilometres and has been serviced correctly it’s almost guaranteed to be still in great condition mechanically. Keep an eye out for rust, dents, and evidence of accident body and paint repairs. Also, other signs of wear on the outside as well as inside that may indicate the vehicle’s condition is not consistent with age and kilometres travelled. Make sure you test drive the car for at least 10-15 minutes.

How many km is too high for a used car?

If you are looking for a used car, there are a few things to consider before buying. One of the first considerations is how high the mileage of the car is. Generally, most cars start to have problems after 200,000 km – 250,000 km. These problems also relate to excessive suspension and steering components worn. This is more evident the heavier the vehicle is and if the vehicle has been used for its intended purpose like a 4WD vehicle for off-road work.

What are the top 5 most reliable used cars?

According to CarsGuide Japanese brands like Mazda, Toyota and Mitsubishi take up the first 5 spots. The Korean brands starting to feature at number 6.

Before You Drive Off
  1. Get a cover note from your insurance company
  2. Make sure you get all the keys for the car
  3. Get the service book/log book and owner’s manual
  4. If there’s an alarm, find out how to de-activate it
  5. Is there a hidden ignition switch/immobilizer?
  6. Remove any E Tags or Toll Tags from the vehicle

Also Please Note:
The information contained on this page is for general information purposes only.
All reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that this information is accurate, complete and up-to-date. Also If you believe that any information we have displayed is inaccurate, please contact us immediately and we will take all reasonable steps to correct it. Finally, this information is a guide only and cannot be used as a reference to a point of law.
If you’re still not confident with your DIY secondhand car Inspection consider getting a pre-purchase car inspection by a qualified mechanic.