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5 Tips for Buying a Car Online

By  AAMI

We've all considered buying a second-hand car online at some point, whether it's to save on some extra pennies or as a quick way to browse for your child's first set of wheels. In this post, we will chat to a Mazda Sales Manager from Canberra, Sam Bodley, for some expert insights and tips on how to make sure you drive away with the right car for you. With a wealth of experience behind him in the automotive industry, Sam's definitely heard his fair share of online car sales horror stories from his customers. Whether they've been shopping new or used, at a dealership or online, it's always a case of 'buyer beware'. That's why Sam has helped us compile 5 handy tips to make sure you make the right purchase.

1. Do your research

With the popularity of online car classifieds such as carsales.com.au, it's never been easier to shop around for different models, makes and colours. In Sam's experience, "the vast majority of people who come to the dealership have already done some research on the car online."

Online resources like How safe is your car, Cars Guide and CHOICE can all help during the early stages of your research.

2. Narrow down your options

Sam regularly watches his friends, family and customers at work make the classic mistake of 'TMI'. 'Too much information' and too many choices are never going to help you make a decision. Sam advises to "narrow down to about 3-5 different options of car models" early on. This tip forces you to get specific about the non-negotiable features that you really need in a car, and really filter out the things that aren't that important.

Sometimes, even just a little bit of extra information can spark another dozen questions, making coming to a conclusion overwhelming and stressful. If you're finding it all a bit hard to make sense of, getting the help of a licensed dealer who'll have the answers at hand, could save you a lot of time and stress.

3. Ask the right questions

Make a checklist and take it with you when you go to inspect a second-hand car, to make sure you remember to ask these important questions:

  • How many owners has the car had?

    If a car has had more than one owner, then you know that you're not always getting the complete story. In a private sale, there's no way to verify what is being advertised.

  • Can I see the service history books?

    Sam warns, "some people will offload a car just before it's due for a big expensive service."

  • What's the car mainly been used for?

    This gives you a better picture of how the car has been driven with its current and past owner(s). This can help paint a picture of how weathered the vehicle might be, even if it doesn't show on the outside.

  • Have there been any mechanical problems or any minor accidents?

    Again, there's no way to validate what you're told, but at least you'll have done what you can by asking.

As an extra tip, Sam suggests, "If you've got a mechanic friend, take them out to see the car as well, they'll pop the bonnet and be able to say "yay or nay" as to whether it's been looked after".

4. Take it for a spin

Fancy specs and glossy pictures are one thing, but the test drive is where you get to really take your car testing and research into fifth gear. Sit in the car, move around, adjust the controls, play around, then take it to the road and see how it handles.

5. Know your rights

With a second-hand car purchase, it's best to find out as much as you can about its service history. Sam has seen two cases of a car being a write-off in its history, without the current owner knowing about it when they've brought it in for a trade-in. When you buy a second-hand car from a licenced dealer, you're covered by a statutory warranty of 3 months (for cars under ten years old).

When it comes to second-hand cars, no two vehicles are the same. That's why doing your research and asking the right questions, puts you in a better position to make a smart purchase.

Before you pick up the keys, make sure you've also organised Car Insurance with AAMI Comprehensive or Third Party cover, so you can hit the road stress-free.