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Used Car Buying Guide With Free Checklist

    Ultimate used car buying guide so you don’t get stuck with a lemon! Follow these simple steps when buying a used car.

    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 guide to help you buy your next used car. Here are the things you need to consider before deciding which used car to purchase.

    Before You Buy A Used Car

    Are You Buying From A Dealer, Auction Or Private Sale?

    Car classified companies like and car auction companies like Manheim have helped educate second-hand car buyers and give them confidence. They have also been able to do this by making the whole 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 sale 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. Even though I recommend you do this if you’re buying a used car from a dealer.

    The good news is, you can download my free ‘Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit’ so you know:

    • What to check when buying a used car including the test drive
    • How to avoid common selling scams
    • How to keep safe in the transaction

    Download My Free Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit

    The DIY buying a used car checklist (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 because if you follow along and do the 7 important necessary steps you will be buying a car like a professional.

    Your FREE Tool Kit Includes:

    • A logical sequence that you can follow quickly and easily
    • 7 Things To Check Before Buying A Used Car
    • Good car inspection checklist
    • Buyer’s and seller’s receipt forms you can complete
    Free Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit For Used Car Buying Guide

    Car Shopping Made Easy

    Going car shopping? If you still haven’t already grabbed my free car buying made easy tool kit, great for multiple DIY inspections so you can narrow down your short-list of potential cars to buy. You see, buying a used car can be overwhelming, but my free ‘Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit’ has everything you need to give you the confidence on what to check when out car shopping and how to protect yourself.

    Ask Hard Questions

    The most important hard question to ask the seller is, “Have you put back what you have taken?” or put simply “Have you had the car serviced regularly?”.

    When the seller feels they need to be the salesperson and sell you their car, they usually want to tell you how wonderful the car has been for them and that they have been everywhere in it. 

    That’s ok, but what you want to know is, what will the car do for me if I buy it, and the only way to know this is by asking for the logbooks/service books and/or maintenance receipts.

    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 miles left. The car may look great but underneath there is nothing left in other words it’s all been used. So when you hear the seller say “it’s been a great vehicle, we have been everywhere in it and we’re only selling it because we just don’t need two cars anymore.”

    1. You can look the seller in the eye and ask, “Have you put back what you have taken?”
    2. Then stop talking! And wait for the seller’s response.
    3. The seller’s response is likely to be, “what do you mean?”
    4. Let’s dive in deeper and I’ll reveal the power behind this question.
    5. What you are really asking the seller is,
    6. “Have you put back the kilometres that you have used” in the way of servicing the vehicle.

    What To Inspect When Buying A Used Car

    If you haven’t already downloaded my free ‘Car Buying Made Easy Tool Kit’ which includes action steps, DIY used car inspection checklist and receipt forms. It can really mean the difference between buying your dream car or buying a lemon that continues costing you money after you buy it.

    It’s now time to take a look around the vehicle. Most people think that if they know nothing about cars they can’t inspect a car but this is wrong.

    What Does A Service Really Mean?

    When looking at the service and repair history you are trying to verify whether the seller has had the vehicle serviced on a regular basis and what repairs and/or modifications have been carried out.

    A service does 5 things to the vehicle:

    1. Keeps the engine clean, and protected, improving efficiency and longevity
    2. Keeps the vehicle safe by replacing serviceable parts
    3. Identifies early signs of trouble
    4. Keeps the vehicle reliable and economical
    5. Improves the re-sale by putting back what the user or seller has taken

    The Vehicle Doesn’t Have A Service History

    Then wait for the seller’s response. It’s important you get some explanation as to why there is no service booklet or company invoices showing repairs/servicing because whether the response is true or not you are collecting more facts which are bullets to fire at the negotiating table to lower the price.

    If the seller can not supply any documentation like the vehicle’s service booklet or an invoice that shows, the company, date and miles that the service or repair was carried out then there are NO FACTS. In this case, the vehicle fits in the major service categories.

    Three Types Of Service Costs:

    • Minor service generally costs $100 to $200 and involves replacing engine oil and oil filter.
    • Intermediate service generally costs $200 to $350 and involves replacing Engine oil, Oil filter, air filter fuel filter and spark plugs.
    • Major service generally costs $350 to $600 and involves replacing engine oil, oil filter, air filter, fuel filter, spark plugs, brake fluid and coolant.

    How To Understand The Service/Log Book?

    You are looking for the service history which shows the miles, types of services or repairs carried out and by whom. The logbook is usually stamped by an authorized repairer. Also, look on the windscreen for the service sticker displaying when the next service is due.
    The owner may have additional invoices as well. The invoices give more detail as to what was carried out and by whom so ask for them too.

    You need to establish if there is a pattern to the service intervals like every 6 Months/5,000km, 12 Months/10,000km or whatever interval is recommended by the manufacturer.

    What you don’t want to see is a service history that shows longer than recommended service intervals for that particular vehicle.

    Important Note:
    A vehicle that has been serviced regularly or showing an interval pattern like every 12 months or 10,000 kilometres is far better than a vehicle that shows no pattern.

    What To Check When Inspecting Service History?

    Free Used Car Buying Guide

    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.

    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 are 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.

    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 depending on how the vehicle is used, private use or company use or 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.

    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.

    After Handing Over Your Money

    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. I have a more detailed explanation of how to protect yourself in Buying Your First Car post.

    When it comes to 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 the 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.

    If you record this information on the receipt form when first inspecting the vehicle it is much easier if you decide to buy the car.

    The car deposit receipt forms help you record the vehicle’s identification particulars that you get from the vehicle itself. Then you can 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).

    You can then use the deposit receipt forms including a copy for the seller to put a hold on the vehicle. I will also include what words/clauses you should add if you want to just hold the vehicle so can arrange for a pre-purchase car inspection before buying.