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Buying a Used Car

When buying a used car, making sure you’re not buying someone else’s problems can be tricky. Hopefully with these tips and tricks, you can have the confidence to buy a great used car that will provide you and your family with reliability for years to come.

Planning and understanding expectations is key. Critical items you should address before commencing your search include: 

  • Budget
  • Expectations
  • Research
  • Vehicle condition
  • Finance check
  • Purchase price
  • Start from scratch servicing


Make sure you have a clear idea on what you would like to spend on your used car and take into consideration that you may want to do an initial service immediately, or there could be repairs required to ensure the vehicle is in safe, roadworthy condition. Be sure to also include initial registration and insurance costs as these will all be required at purchase time to protect your asset.


This is where you need to really decide what your needs in a car are and what your wants might be. For example, you may ‘need’ four doors and a boot and you may ‘want’ an automatic instead of manual. Being able to articulate the non-negotiable items on your needs list will assist the process in ensuring you get exactly what suits. If some of the wish list items make it into your purchase, happy days!


It is important to understand what your expectations are and conduct research to find out if you are going to be able to find your ideal car, within your budget. The following websites provide fantastic search options which look at items such as auto vs manual, style of vehicle, age of vehicle, number of kilometers etc. When comparing your budget, expectations and the research, this will assist you in understanding what you are likely to be able to afford for your money, even before you begin your search.

Vehicle condition 

When you think you’ve found the right vehicle that warrants your time and attention to inspect, ensuring you understand that the way in which the vehicle is presented is not the only contributing factor to whether the vehicle is a good buy, is essential.

If you are not mechanically trained, take a friend or family member with you for support, as well as a torch as there are some key items you can check for yourself, before obtaining an opinion from a qualified tradesperson. Some key items to check are:

  • Use your torch to look under the engine for oil leaks. Don’t just check the top of the engine as it can be common for some sellers to degrease the top of the engine for sale purposes. 
  • Check the dipstick as grey or milky oil can indicate an engine problem.
  • Check the coolant by taking the radiator cap off. There should be no oil in the coolant, and it should be brightly coloured and clean. 
  • A quick check of the radiator cooling fans and the battery for corrosion and other damage is also essential. 
  • Check that there is a spare tyre, jack and toolkit. 
  • Inspect the paint and panels on the vehicle for colour differences and panel alignment. If panels don’t fit properly or doors don’t open and close with ease, this could indicate the vehicle had been in an accident. 
  • Check the tyres for adequate tread (3-4mm) as well as uneven wear. There could be an issue with the alignment, steering or suspension if the wear is not consistent. 
  • Inside the car check for wear and tear on the upholstery, trim and carpets. Of course, when purchasing a second hand vehicle there is going to be general wear and tear, but as long as you’re comfortable with the state the inside of the vehicle is in, that is ok. 
  • Check all the seatbelts to ensure they work properly and look for car seat bolts if required. 
  • If you take someone with you when inspecting a car, ask them to help you check that all lights and accessories work. Do this by turning the key onto accessory and testing every feature on the dash including hazard lights, indicators and brakes. 
  • When you test drive the vehicle, listen for noises, rattles and knocks. This can be a good indication of a problem. Also watch for excessive exhaust fumes when starting the engine and idling. 
  • Take good notice of the dashboard when test driving to look for any warning lights that may appear. 
  • Test the brakes a few times on the test drive as well as they should feel firm.

When you decide that you want to proceed with an offer and you need a tradesperson to double check the vehicle, don’t hesitate to contact Johnson’s 4WD Repair Shop as we offer a mobile mechanical service and can complete a pre-purchase inspection for you from as little as $110. We can also assist you or the seller in obtaining a Roadworthy Certificate.

If there are some items that need attention and the seller is open to negotiation, a reduction of the purchase price on the proviso that you fix what needs to be repaired could see you walk away with an affordable and reliable vehicle within budget and which meets all your needs. If the seller isn’t negotiable and there are too many expenses resulting in the purchase price of the vehicle increasing significantly after the transaction is complete, it may be best to move on to another vehicle.

Finance Check

If purchasing from a private seller, it pays to complete a REVS check online. This will show you if the vehicle is currently held as security with a finance company or bank. If it is, the vehicle isn’t legally able to be sold. A REVS check will also show you if the vehicle has ever been ‘written off’ in an accident.

You can obtain a REVS check from here:

Purchase Price

Negotiations on the final purchase price can begin once you have completed the above steps and are confident in the vehicle you are making an offer on. Making an offer too soon can result in backwards and forwards negotiations and may result in wasting your time as well as the sellers. If you make an offer and the seller’s counteroffer is the advertised price, unless you are really keen on the vehicle, it may be best to move on and resume your search.


Be sure to write a receipt if the transaction is completed by a private seller and be prepared to complete a Registration Transfer with the QLD Department of Transport and Main Roads.

Receipt template examples can be found online with a quick google search. The seller should have this ready for you but it always pays to be prepared in case they don’t.

TMR Registration Link:

Start from Scratch Servicing 

After the purchase, it pays to know where your vehicle’s service history is at. If a completed logbook has been provided with the car, it will provide you with an overview of what has been completed to date, by who (you’re looking for a reputable workshop / mobile mechanic here) and will give you an indication of what is coming up.

If the vehicle does not have a logbook and the service history is not available, the ‘start from scratch service’ is what you will need. By starting from scratch, this will ensure all the oils and filters are changed and replaced, as well as service such as spark plugs, coolant, drive belts etc. Once this has been completed, you’ll have peace of mind that from then on, every service due can be done as per the manufacture’s recommendations for the intervals. Even without a logbook from the manufacturer, this information can be sourced by your trusted mechanic.

Pre-Purchase Inspections, Roadworthy Certificates and Start from Scratch Servicing can all be undertaken here at Johnson’s 4WD Repair Shop. With one on one service you can trust, quality and affordable workmanship, online booking options, free pick up and drop offs as well as text message reminders, the maintenance of your vehicle is made easy and hassle free.