What to Check When Buying a Used Car in Australia: A Complete Checklist

Buying a used car can be a smart financial decision, offering significant savings compared to new vehicles. However, it requires careful consideration to avoid potential pitfalls. Whether purchasing from a private seller or an authorised dealer in Australia, there are crucial factors to check to ensure you make a sound investment. This guide provides detailed insights from both perspectives to help you navigate the process smoothly. We have covered everything you need to check when buying a pre-owned vehicle in Australia.

Used car buying checklist

Mandatory Checklist when Buying a Used Car in Australia

  1. PPSR Check: Ensure no outstanding finance or theft history.
  2. Service Records: Verify regular maintenance.
  3. VIN and Engine Number: Match the registration papers.
  4. Registration and RWC: Confirm current registration and roadworthy certificate.
  5. Body Condition: Inspect for dents, scratches, and rust.
  6. Glass and Lights: Check for chips, cracks, and functionality.
  7. Transmission: Test for smooth gear changes.
  8. Brakes: Inspect pads, rotors, and listen for unusual sounds.
  9. Test Drive: Evaluate starting, acceleration, handling, and braking.
  10. Ownership Transfer: Complete with state authority.

Make sure to tick all the checklists to stay away from future troubles after you close the deal.


What to check when Buying a used car in Australia from a Private Seller

1. Vehicle History Report

Why It Matters: A vehicle history report provides a detailed record of the car’s past, including any accidents, repairs, and ownership changes. It helps you avoid vehicles with hidden issues.

How to Check: Request the car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and obtain a report from services like CarHistory or the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR). These reports can reveal if the car has been in any major accidents, has outstanding finance, or has been reported stolen.

Fact: According to a survey by Canstar, approximately 30% of Australians experience issues with used cars they purchased without checking the vehicle history first.

Don’t forget to ask these must-ask questions when buying a second-hand car. See our full guide on what questions to ask when buying a used car in Australia.

2. Ownership and Registration

Why It Matters: Ensuring the car isn’t stolen and verifying the seller’s ownership are critical to avoid legal issues.

How to Check: Compare the VIN and engine numbers on the car with those on the registration papers. Use the PPSR to check for any existing finance on the car. Ensure the seller’s name matches the name on the registration documents.

Law: In Australia, it is illegal to sell a car with outstanding finance without informing the buyer. The PPSR check ensures there are no encumbrances.

Don’t make these mistakes when buying a used car in Australia. See our detailed article on mistakes to avoid when buying a pre-owned car.

3. Mechanical Condition

Why It Matters: Understanding the car’s mechanical condition helps avoid costly repairs and ensures the vehicle is safe to drive.

How to Check: Conduct a thorough inspection, focusing on the engine, transmission, brakes, and suspension. Look for any signs of wear and tear, leaks, or rust. Consider hiring a professional mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection.

Stat: RACQ reports that around 40% of used cars have hidden mechanical issues that are not immediately apparent.

4. Test Drive

Why It Matters: A test drive can reveal issues not apparent in a visual inspection and ensures the car handles well.

How to Check: Test the car in various driving conditions, such as city traffic and highway speeds. Listen for unusual noises, check for smooth operation of the transmission and brakes, and ensure all electronics (lights, air conditioning, windows) function properly.

5. Service History

Why It Matters: Regular maintenance records indicate a well-maintained vehicle, reducing the risk of future problems.

How to Check: Ask for the service logbook or receipts for recent repairs and maintenance. Check for consistent servicing intervals, typically every 10,000 to 15,000 kilometers or annually.

Tip: A car with a full service history may command a higher price, but it is often worth the investment for peace of mind.

6. Negotiation and Finalising the Deal

Why It Matters: Negotiating can lead to better pricing, and proper documentation finalizes the transaction legally.

How to Check: Research the car’s market value using resources like RedBook or CarsGuide. Use findings from your inspections as leverage during negotiations. Ensure a clear written agreement is made, including the sale price and any agreed repairs. Complete the transfer of ownership through your local state’s motor vehicle registration authority.

Law: In most Australian states, the buyer is responsible for transferring the registration within 14 days of purchase.

After ensuring everything checks out with your potential used car, it’s essential to understand how to assess the value of a used vehicle.

What to check when Buying a used car from Australia from an Authorised Dealer

1. Dealer Reputation

Why It Matters: A reputable dealer is more likely to sell reliable vehicles and provide better customer service.

How to Check: Look for online reviews, ratings, and customer testimonials. Check for accreditation with industry bodies like the Motor Traders Association (MTA).

Stat: A 2020 survey by Canstar found that 88% of Australians trust accredited dealers more than private sellers.

Before making your purchase, be sure to consider these tips before you purchase a used car from car dealers to avoid common pitfalls

2. Certified Pre-Owned Programs

Why It Matters: Certified pre-owned (CPO) cars come with warranties and have undergone rigorous inspections, offering more reliability.

How to Check: Verify the certification process and what the warranty covers. Ensure the certification is from a recognized authority, such as the manufacturer or an industry body.

Tip: CPO cars often include additional benefits like roadside assistance and extended warranties, making them a safer option.

3. Warranty and Return Policy

Why It Matters: A warranty can protect you from unexpected repair costs, and a return policy provides peace of mind in case you need to return the car.

How to Check: Review the terms of the warranty, including duration and coverage details. Understand the dealer’s return policy, including any conditions or restocking fees.

Law: Under Australian Consumer Law, used cars bought from dealers are covered by statutory warranties, which vary by state but generally apply to cars under a certain age and mileage.

4. Inspection and Test Drive

Why It Matters: Even cars from dealers need a thorough inspection and test drive to ensure they meet your standards.

How to Check: Inspect the car yourself or hire a mechanic for an independent inspection. Test drive the vehicle under various conditions to identify any potential issues. Pay attention to how the car handles, brakes, and accelerates.

5. Vehicle History Report

Why It Matters: Knowing the vehicle’s history is crucial to avoid cars with hidden problems.

How to Check: Request the report from the dealer and verify its authenticity. Look for any discrepancies or red flags, such as inconsistent mileage or multiple ownership changes in a short period.

6. Pricing and Financing Options

Why It Matters: Dealers often offer financing options, but it’s essential to get the best deal to avoid overpaying.

How to Check: Compare the dealer’s price with other listings for the same make and model. Evaluate financing terms and interest rates, and consider getting pre-approved for a loan from your bank to compare offers.

Tip: Use online tools like MoneySmart’s car loan calculator to understand the total cost of financing options.

7. Completing the Purchase

Why It Matters: Properly completing the purchase ensures legal ownership and registration, protecting you from future issues.

How to Check: Ensure all paperwork, including the contract of sale, warranty documentation, and transfer of ownership forms, is correctly filled out and signed. Confirm the car’s registration is transferred to your name with your state’s motor vehicle registration authority.

Fact: According to CarAdvice, failing to properly transfer ownership can lead to fines and complications with registration renewal.


Once you’ve completed all the necessary checks from our complete checklist, it’s vital to understand the importance of regular car maintenance to keep your vehicle in optimal condition.


Buying a used car in Australia requires careful consideration and thorough checks, whether you’re dealing with a private seller or an authorised dealer. By following these detailed steps, you can avoid common pitfalls and ensure you’re making a wise investment. Always prioritize due diligence, from verifying the car’s history and condition to understanding your rights and protections under Australian consumer law. Happy car hunting!