When you're out there looking for your next used car to buy, you need to keep more than a few things in mind. Do you want to buy private or go to a dealer? Is there more than one kind of used vehicle you can buy? What about too-good-to-be-true offers? How about finance and insurance? Here are some of the more important things to be aware of when buying your next used vehicle so you aren't caught out.

You need to choose how “used” you want to buy

When we think of used cars, we tend to think any car that's been pre-owned. That is true – but not all used cars fit that catch-all term. The majority of used cars on a dealer's lot or advertised on online classifieds by the public are sold as they are – you get what you pay for. You can get a bargain this way, provided everything checks out. However, you can also go down the certified used or demo car route. Certified used cars are (on average) about three years old or newer, are factory refurbished and come with an extended warranty. Demo cars are “test drive” cars no more than six months old and can be had for much cheaper than a fresh new car. The latter two options do cost more, but there's added peace of mind in terms of warranties and guarantees.

You need to shop around for finance

To get the most out of your purchase, you should research competing interest rates from multiple lenders. To make things easier, you can approach a car loan broker who can gather many different loans and drive home the best deal for you. Better yet, you can get pre-approved for a loan, which means you can shop around and have the loan ready to go when you find a car. It also shows you're not just “tyre-kicking” and gives you a strict budget a dealer or seller must match, or you walk away.

Another tip: saving a deposit can save you a bundle in interest, so consider having 10-20% of the purchase price before applying.

You need to test drive and do your homework

When you do look at cars, whether from an individual seller or a dealer, you need to sight the VIN, logbook, and odometer at the very least. If they make excuses about any of them, walk away immediately. You should also test the car – how it handles, if it rattles or has odd noises, turn on all the electrics, and inspect the interior and exterior for damage. That way you can get a handle on whether the car is right for you – and is as “good” as the owner claims.

You should be wary of scammers

Scams are everywhere in the used car market – here are some of the common ones so you can avoid them.

  • They claim they're Defence being deployed overseas and need to dispose of their car quickly at a bargain price. You pay for “delivery”, and they scarper off with your money.
  • They want to meet at night in a secluded area. They possibly take your money, car, and other belongings by force.
  • They insist on payments before you've even seen the car and ask for sensitive personal information before showing you more photos.

Remember to always check for the most recent scams at ScamWatch.