Used car-shopping: Six tips to avoid getting stuck with a lemon


As residents across Australia’s flood-stricken eastern states start to count their losses, many are finding their cars are among the pricier possessions in need of replacing.

There have been 20,773 flood-related motor vehicle claims made across New South Wales and Queensland as of Friday morning, the Insurance Council of Australia told The New Daily.

But the country’s car market is already stressed after years of supply and demand issues brought on by the pandemic, and used car prices have soared.

Just because it’s a seller’s market though, doesn’t mean you should just go ahead and buy whatever you can get your hands on.

NRMA head of media Peter Khoury says buying a secondhand vehicle always carries a risk, regardless of whether there has been extreme weather in your area.

So what can you do to make sure your next car isn’t a lemon?

Before buying a used car, check the history

Mr Khoury said the first thing you should do is check the history of the car you are thinking of buying.

While these checks might differ between states, they will usually cover whether the vehicle has been written-off in the past, whether the current owner still owes money on the loan, if it has been listed as stolen, or if there is a discrepancy with the odometer reading.

You can order a vehicle history check online, and all you need is:

The vehicle’s registration, identity, or chassis number.
The odometer reading.
The make and model.

Don’t shop alone

It can be easy to fall in love with a car, so avoid making any rash decisions by bringing along someone you trust whenever you go car shopping.

“Make sure you don’t go on your own, because it’s always good to have that other person who might see something that you don’t see because you’re looking at the car through rose-coloured glasses,” Mr Khoury said.

Get a professional opinion

If you’re keen to go forward with the purchase, the next step is to get your vehicle inspected by a mechanic, Mr Khoury said.

Brisbane-based mechanic Peter said getting a pre-purchase inspection is essential because checking a car is in good working condition is too complex for anyone who doesn’t have professional knowledge.

Buy from the right places

Peter said while you’ll usually be safe buying from a used car dealership, as they won’t want to do anything that damages their reputation, buying from an individual is a lot riskier.

In particular, he said buying a car on social media is dangerous and leaves you open to scams.

“[On] Facebook marketplace there’s a lot of the scams going on where people are stealing ads, putting them up, and then wanting a deposit to hold the car – and there is no car,” he said.

“If it looks too good to be true, it is.”

Many Australian states and territories also don’t require private sellers to obtain a safety or roadworthiness certification before selling a car, which Peter said could leave buyers with a bill thousands of dollars higher than they anticipated.

He said he no longer agrees to perform pre-purchase inspections if the vehicle does not have a roadworthy certificate because of the disputes about payment that arise between car sellers and buyers.

Look out for legal lemons

Peter said you should also keep an eye out of people selling repairable write-offs.

These are vehicles that can be repaired, but the cost of repairs would probably be more than the vehicle’s worth.

Mr Khoury said going through the steps of checking a vehicle’s history and current condition, will give you “a safety net” through the process of buying a car.

“If you’re looking at buying a secondhand vehicle, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from getting left with a lemon,” he said.

“And that applies regardless of if you’re talking about repairable write-offs as a result of hail damage or floods, or if you’re just in the market for a secondhand car.”

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