These expert insights will make buying your next used car a breeze

Expert guidance can make all the difference when you’re buying a used car - whether you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned pro.

By Citro partner Carbar

Buying a used car is equal-parts exciting and nerve-wracking. You’re thrilled to be getting a new-to-you car, but it’s also a stressful process. We’ve all heard the story of the mate of a mate’s mate whose brand-new used car ran for a week then dramatically died going 110 km/hr on the M1. Or your cousin’s work colleague’s sister who paid twice what the car was worth.

The thing is: nobody wants to be the guy who buys the lemon. But it sure feels like we could be.

After all, buying a used car isn’t something many of us do every day. According to ABS data, the average Aussie hangs onto each car for 10.6 years. So, at most, we’ll buy around 5 cars in our lifetime. Even if every single one of those was a used car, that’s still not a lot of buying experience.

Which is where Carbar’s head of sales, Erroll Quitoriano, comes in. He’s a professional used car buyer and he’s probably bought more used cars than the rest of us combined. Erroll recently agreed to share the secrets of how he navigates the complicated world of used cars. Here’s what he wants you to know:

1. Give yourself plenty of time

According to Erroll, the foundation of a successful used car purchase is conducting a thorough in-person inspection.

The importance of this step cannot be overstated, so Erroll suggests putting plenty of time aside to do it well. The physical inspection should take at least 30 minutes, preferably closer to 90 minutes to thoroughly examine the car's condition, he says.

Erroll recommends taking along a pen and paper, a torch, gloves, a tablet or phone to compare the inspection notes with any existing condition reports, as well as a portable jumper pack in case the vehicle’s battery decides not to cooperate (it’s not necessarily a red flag if this happens).

'First, we ensure the vehicle is in a well-lit space,' he explains. '[Then] we’re systematic in that we usually start at the same point and work around the vehicle’s exterior, then focus on the engine bay, boot and interior.'

Inside, Erroll checks the stereo (all speakers work and not crackling), but drives with it off so he can listen to the car.

Next, he’ll test all the windows, mirrors and sunroof to make sure they operate correctly, and if it's a convertible, test that the top opens and closes with no issues.

Finally, he checks that the aircon is cold and the heater is warm. “It sounds obvious, but it's something anyone can check without needing to be an expert and is often overlooked.”

Used car expert Erroll Quitoriano, head of sales at Carbar.

A meticulous inspection ensures that the car matches its description and reveals any potential issues. Erroll emphasises that this thorough assessment lays the groundwork for fair negotiations based on accurate data.

The order in which you carry out this inspection doesn’t matter so much, just that it’s done. For example, if it’s about to rain or get dark soon, finish the exterior parts first as you can always do the interior regardless of the weather.

Once a thorough vehicle inspection has been carried out, Erroll will triple-check all the documentation.

2. Get the documents in order

Erroll underscores the critical role of documentation in the buying process. 'Before even considering a used car, ensure it has a clear title through a PPSR check and verify that the vehicle is registered in the seller's name,' he advises.

Clear documentation is vital to safeguard your investment and prevent potential legal complications. Verifying documents ensures you’ll get what you’ve paid for and hopefully avoid any future surprises.

3. Enlist a second set of eyes

Buying a car is an emotional experience for many of us. Some are busy picturing themselves merrily road tripping along without a care in the world. Others are reliving childhood memories the car’s smell is triggering.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle – we’re confident purchasers, but we’re already a bit too attached to the metallic wrap the previous owner chose... Like we said, emotional times.

Erroll’s experience has taught him that a fresh set of eyes can provide insights that add an extra layer of confidence to the decision-making process. 'Sometimes, if the deal seems really good, we can overlook red flags or potential deal breakers. Enlisting the help of your mechanic or a knowledgeable friend can help you avoid a bad deal.'

Buyers can also use a service like RedBook to get a valuation report so you know whether you’re getting a good deal.

4. Don’t skip the thorough test drive

Erroll places a significant emphasis on an exhaustive test drive. Beyond a standard spin around the block, he encourages test driving on roads you're familiar with.

'Take the car on familiar routes to evaluate its performance across various types of terrain,' he advises. This approach allows you to feel any bumps, rattles, or unusual sounds that might not be evident on an unfamiliar route.

Comprehensive testing of all features – from windows to air conditioning – also ensures you're fully aware of the vehicle's condition before committing to the purchase.

As part of your testing, Erroll also suggests researching the general reliability of the car make and model you’re looking at.

'Japanese cars have always been the most reliable,' he notes, citing their readily available parts and reasonable prices. However, Erroll insists that correct and meticulous maintenance can make any vehicle dependable.

5. Don’t rush the process

One of the most critical pieces of advice Erroll shares is to avoid succumbing to pressure during negotiations.

'Don't rush under pressure. Be cautious of sudden transaction requests,' he cautions.

It's vital to ensure the transaction process is secure, including verifying the funds have left your account and landed with the seller before taking the keys. Erroll's emphasis on a cautious approach helps protect buyers from potential scams and ensures a smoother, safer transaction.

Erroll's final advice for any used car buyer is a reassuring reminder: "Don't be pressured into anything — there will always be another car.”

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