If you’re looking to buy a used car, you’re far from alone. There are literally millions of used cars for sale and changing hands every year, from both private-party and dealerships.

Buying a used car could save you heaps of money over a new one, but there are also some risks involved. So here is a little guide to help you buy your next used car with confidence and ensure you make the right purchase, not something that you may regret.

1. Exterior Inspection

Take a walk around the outside of the car and look for things like any chips, scratches, dents, or rust to the frame and panels of the car (including underneath).  Anything that looks repainted may be a warning sign that it’s either been in an accident or suffered rust damage.

Check the tyres. Not only are they expensive to replace, but worn or incorrectly aligned tyres pose a safety risk. Check the tread depth of each tyre (including the spare in the boot) and make sure the wear is even across the tyre.

Check the windows and windscreen for any chips or damage to the glass. Small chips can grow over time.

Make sure all the lights are working, including reverse lights, brake lights, signal lights, low and high beams. 

2. Interior Inspection

Check all compartments inside the cabin of the used car to make sure everything works, and make sure that there are no unusual or unwanted smells.  

Check the seats, flooring and ceiling for signs of damage or excess wear.

Check electronic components are all working. This includes lights, buttons, mirrors, air conditioning system, radio, and all infotainment unit controls.

Check the handbrake and the instrument panel. Keep an eye out for any warning lights when you turn on the car.

3. Under the Hood

The engine is the most important part of any vehicle. Pop up the hood and visually inspect the engine signs of fluid leaks, oil stains, corrosion and cracked hoses or belts. Note any funny sounds or smells when you start up the engine.

Check the engine oil and transmission fluid levels and for discolouration — in general, oil should be light brown, transmission fluid should be pink or red.

Check radiator coolant (should be green or orange and not murky) and brake and power steering fluid levels.

4. Test Drive

You should never buy a used car without doing a test drive. Mechanically, you are listening for any unusual sounds or noises as you are driving, such as knocking, squeaking, or whirring/thrumming, which indicates a possible problem somewhere. Also test the brakes thoroughly.

5. Check the History and Pre-purchase Vehicle Inspection

Make sure the used car you intend to buy does not have any encumbrances, which could potentially end up being repossessed.

Do an online search on the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR), formerly known as a REVs check, using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or the serial number if you only have the manufacturer’s number.

You will receive an email of the search certificate stating if there’s any money owing on the car. It should also have other useful information such as whether it has been written-off or stolen; registration number and expiry; make, model and colour of car, and even if it’s part of the faulty Takata airbag recall.

Get the full service history of the car from the seller if available to make sure it has been properly maintained.

For greater peace of mind, get the used vehicle checked by a trusted mechanic. Many places offer a pre-purchase vehicle inspection service that provides you a report of any mechanical problems found with the vehicle.

When buying from a dealer, they usually have their own mechanics check over the car before putting it out for sale, so you can decide if you want another inspection done by an independent mechanic.