Things to Check When Buying a Used Car


A car is likely to be one of the most expensive purchases you ever make, so it pays to make sure you get it right. As a buyer, you have the right to fully inspect the vehicle from nose to tail to create a clear picture in your mind regarding its overall condition.

We have put together this handy used car buyers checklist for you to use to help you work out what to look for when considering buying a second-hand car.

Visual inspection
  • There are no signs of previous accidents, hail, or other damage, and no chips or imperfections in the paint. You should know about every scratch on the car before buying.
  • For improper sealing: Pop the hood, open the trunk and try all the doors and windows. It should all work smoothly and evenly.
  • For panel irregularities: All body panels and doors should be flush.
On the inside:
  • Pay special attention to the electronics and check that all the functions work.
  • Check the condition of all the upholstery.
  • Check that all the lights are functioning.
  • Ensure that the windows, air conditioning, audio, and all other electronics are working.
  • Where possible, lift the carpets and look inside the doors for any signs of damage or repairs.
Other things to look for:
  • Paint. A new paint job on an old car might be hiding something and you’re generally better off with the original paint. Watch out for any signs of painted-over imperfections, bubbles under the paint, and mismatched paint on adjacent body panels.
  • Tires. If you’ll have to replace the tires after buying, then factor that into the cost and don’t pay too much for the car. Tires should also wear down evenly. If they’re not evenly worn then there may have been a previous accident or the car might have other problems.
  • Glass. This can be expensive to replace, so pay special attention to any chips or cracks in the windows, indicator lights, mirrors, and anywhere else.
  • Under the car. Don’t forget to inspect under the car. Rust often starts here, so look out for any signs of corrosion or other damage.
  • Lights Check – Taillights, indicators, number plate lights, park lights, and reverse lights should all be in good working order. Don’t forget, you’ll also want to make sure that none of the warning lights on the instrument panel are lit when the car is running. If you notice that the lights are not working properly on the used car, ask for them to be replaced so you can verify it is not an electrical or wiring fault.
  • Seat Belt Check – Safety comes first. To confirm that seat belts are in good condition; that locking mechanisms work and that the belts extend and retract smoothly. Give the steering wheel a check too. Just to make sure it turns with ease and feels nice and sturdy.


The Engine

When taking the used car for a test drive, you’ll want to make sure that the engine runs smoothly (and quietly) when driving and when idling. Check the oil dipstick too. You’ll want to see nice, honey-colored oil. Unless it’s a diesel, where black oil is normal. Ask to see the service book to confirm that the car has been serviced regularly. Have a look around the oil filler cap. If there’s a white, creamy substance present, it could mean the engine needs closer inspection. A dodgy engine could cost you more in the long run and running costs could soon add up. So make this your first thing to tick off your car buying checklist.

Radiator Coolant and Fluid Check

With the engine cold, remove the radiator coolant cap and check that the coolant is clean and brightly coloured, and free of any rust. You’ll also want to check under the car and around the engine compartment for any signs of coolant, oil, or other fluid leaks. Purchasing a used car can save you money. But if there are fluid leaks, then repairing them could cost you more over the long run.

Exhaust Check

Black, blue or white smoke from the exhaust indicates an engine problem. Excessive exhaust noise or a knocking sound from under the car can indicate an exhaust system problem.

The documents and information to get

You’ll want to get:

  • The car’s CTP insurance details. You should not test drive a car on public roads if it doesn’t have CTP insurance or is unregistered. Ask to see the certificate before taking it for a test drive and check that the certificate details match the vehicle.
  • The VIN. This unique 17-digit code will generally be on the inside of the driver’s door. Record it for later if you plan on buying in order to check the car’s history.



Class A: If the car has traveled fewer than 160,000km and is less than 10 years old, car dealers in Queensland have to provide a three-month or 5000km (whichever happens first) statutory warranty.

Class B: If the car has traveled more than 160,000km or is more than 10 years old, there’s a one-month or 1000km (whichever happens first) statutory warranty.

Cooling-off period: There’s a one-day cooling-off period once you’ve signed the purchase agreement. The dealer can charge you a non-refundable deposit, of which the amount cannot exceed $100. If you want to cancel the contract, you have to do so in writing.

Following the above helps to make sure the used car you’re considering buying is mechanically sound. However, if you’re daunted by the above list make sure you book a car servicing mobile vehicle inspection and leave it to the experts.

Mr. Mechanic can come to you for any vehicle repair, service, roadworthy certificate, and inspection needs. Call us for a free quote!

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