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Here’s what to check when buying a used car

Ultimate Used Car Buying Guide

Any large investment you make in your life requires some research, time and effort to ensure that what you’re purchasing is the best fit for you. Buying a used car is no exception to this – in fact, it probably requires even more research. After all, this is the car you’ll be using on the daily to get from A to B and everywhere else in between. You want to make sure you’re getting a car that not only fits your lifestyle but also is in good condition and will stand the test of time.

So what do you need to check when buying a second hand car? It can be a little overwhelming at times to keep track of everything you need to check, but don’t stress – we’ve compiled a list of what to check when buying a used car.

You can also check out our ultimate used car buying guide before settling on your final decision.

Checklist to Buy a Used Car

  • Vehicle Identification Number
  • Consult the Paperwork
  • Insurance, Registration & Warranty
  • Visual Checks
  • Age and Mileage
  • Engine
  • Lights
  • Tyres
  • Spaces and Visibility
  • Interior Features
  • Fuel Efficiency
  • Get the Most out of your Test Drive

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

Always check the car’s VIN, and that it matches the VIN on the registration papers. This number is usually somewhere in the rear of the engine compartment, usually at a corner.

Why check this? It’s a good way to verify information about the car (such as country of origin and vehicle history) and also ensure the car isn’t stolen or under finance.

Consult the Paperwork

Make sure everything is legit and in order. Check the maintenance history and that it has a certificate of roadworthiness. Servicing any car in regular vehicles can help to prolong the life of the car, so if you find that the used car you’re wanting to buy doesn’t have a solid service history, it may be time to look elsewhere. Always check the service or logbook and verify this with the seller. This is an important time to see whether the seller has had any noticeable problems with the car in the past, or if often needs expensive repairs.

Also, make sure the seller of the car is in fact the owner. If you can, consult the seller’s license number and cross-check with the registration papers.

Insurance, Registration & Warranty

Checking on the motor vehicle insurance and the registration of the vehicle is an essential step before you hop in the car for a test drive, especially if you’re buying from a private seller. The benefit of buying from a dealer is that they are legally obligated to guarantee that there’s no money owing on the vehicle. Also in WA, when you buy a car from a dealer, you’ll get a three month or 5000km statutory warranty on a vehicle that’s less than 10 years old and has covered less than 150,000km.
Also check the car’s safety rating, and that safety features are all in working order.

Visual Checks

First thing’s first – tackle everything you can see. This means checking out the body and paint for any dents, creases, chipped paint, or evidence of any crash repairs. While you’re doing this, it’s also a good idea to check that the doors and boot can open and close with ease.

Age and Mileage

The first questions you’ve got to be asking are: how old is the car and how many kilometres has it done? It’s important to know at what point in its lifecycle the car should be at. It can also make clearer the typical price range that a car of that age and mileage would fall under – so you can make sure you’re getting a fair purchase price from the seller.
If the seller is offering a considerably lower purchase price than the average, or other than what you’d reasonably expect for a car of that age and quality, you need to proceed with caution, as it might be an indication of some type of underlying issue.


The engine is the most important part of the car, and you’ll want to check whether the engine runs smoothly. Listen out for any unusual sounds when starting the engine or while out on your test drive (you need to take it for a test drive!).

While you’re doing your inspection, make sure you check the engine oil as well – you’ll want to ensure that the oil dipstick comes out with a nice honey colour to it. If it’s a diesel engine, black oil is normal!
The costs that you could accumulate through servicing a problematic engine will quickly add up, so this is an essential thing to check and ask questions about when you’re buying a used car.

If you’re feeling a little apprehensive about it and don’t feel as knowledgeable about cars as you should be, get the car formally inspected by a mechanic to ease any worries you might have.


It might seem like a minor detail, but any missing or blown bulbs can be a pain to replace… or there might be another issue. Checking the lights on a used car is something that many people often forget about, as most people will be inspecting the car or taking it for a test drive during the day.

Remember that there are many different lights to check on the car including the reverse lights, indicators, taillights and of course the headlamps. If you do notice some kind of problem with one of these lights, you should enquire about whether there may be a wiring or electrical fault in the car.


No matter what type of used car you are looking at buying, check to see whether all of the tyres are in solid condition. Make sure that all the tyres are wearing evenly, and check on the spare tyre to see if that it’s in good condition. You don’t want to be buying a car where the tread depth on the tyres is below the minimum wear indicators.

If you do notice that a tyre has significant wear on one shoulder, it could be an indicator of a suspension problem or that the wheel alignment of the car is out.

Space and Visibility

As part of the inspection of the used car, you should always check to see how much space you have in the cabin when you step in. Obviously, this will depend upon your size, but this is the time to see whether there is adequate space to comfortably and safely drive the car. Always look over your shoulders and check the visibility to make sure it doesn’t have any glaring issues.

Interior Features

While you’re checking out the space inside, make sure to take a deep dive into the interior features and check if they meet your requirements. You’ll want to see if the air conditioning is capable of keeping you cool on those scorching hot days. If it has an infotainment system with Bluetooth, are there any connectivity options that you need to be aware of? Make sure all the windows are working and that all other electronic accessories are in order.

The seatbelts should also be comfortable and all intact, as some older seatbelts can sometimes have the tendency to fray over time.

Fuel Efficiency

Although you can check on the fuel efficiency of the car online, you should always verify this information with the person who has been driving the vehicle. They can let you know of any tricks to get the most fuel-efficient drive out of it. You might want to check other online reviews of the car to see what other car owners thought of the performance.

Get the Most out of Your Test Drive

Ultimately, you won’t be able to truly check the condition of the used car until you get on the roads for a test drive. If you can, try and take it down some quieter roads so that you can concentrate on the sounds of the car rather than ambient traffic noise. If you’re in a manual car, check to see that the clutch and gear shift operate smoothly.

You want to make sure that you like the way that the car handles, how it performs at different speeds, and whether the brakes feel nice and firm.

Perth City Skoda

It always makes sense to buy a second-hand car from reliable car dealers, particularly if you’re wanting to be sure about the quality of the vehicle you’re buying or want further insight into what to check when buying a used car. Perth City Skoda has a number of Skoda used cars – come visit us and take one for a spin.

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