Buying a used car
You can buy a used car through a:
Buying a car through a dealer provides you with some automatic consumer protections, flexibility to compare options and avoids the stress of negotiating with private sellers.
Dealers can only sell cars that have no money owing on them and - depending on the age of the car - may be required by law to provide you with a warranty.
Dealers have obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) to meet consumer guarantees i.e. cars sold need to be of acceptable quality and last for a reasonable period of time.
Learn more about car warranties.
When you buy a used car from a licensed dealer, you will sign a contract of sale. This is a legally binding document you should only sign when you are sure you want to buy the car.
Before signing the contract, make sure it shows the:
- total cost of your new car;
- trade-in amount (if you are trading in a car); and
- special contract conditions you have agreed to (if any, i.e a subject to finance clause).
Do not be forced into a decision.
You can withdraw from a deal before the contract is signed by you and the dealer. Please note there is no cooling-off period for vehicle sales in Western Australia.
The dealer must give you a copy of the contract once signed by both parties.
If you need to cancel a contract to buy a car, you may be asked to pay ‘pre-estimated liquidated damages’ (PELD). The maximum amount of PELD a dealer can charge is five per cent of the total purchase price.
Learn more about cancelling a contract with a dealer.
Buying a car from a private seller can be more cost-effective than buying from a dealer, but it poses a higher level of risk.
Before buying a used car it is strongly recommended that you pay for a pre-purchase inspection with a qualified mechanic, and do a Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) check - see below.
It’s also very important to note that cars sold privately are not covered by statutory warranties in the Motor Vehicle Dealers’ Act, or by Australian Consumer Law (ACL) consumer guarantees.
Ask the seller if there is any warranty remaining on the vehicle from its original sale and, if so, arrange to have that warranty transferred to you.
Learn more about vehicle warranties.
When you buy from a private seller, you are purchasing at your own risk.
Under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), sellers guarantee that they have the right to sell the goods (clear title), unless they have alerted the consumer that it has limited title. This means that a car offered for sale should not have any money owing.
Before you agree to buy, visit the Personal Properties Securities Register (PPSR) to check if a car is a repairable write-off, has been stolen and is free of outstanding debts. You can complete this check for just $2 at ppsr.gov.au or call 1300 007 777. Note: Unauthorised websites link back to this address and charge much more.
To complete a PPSR search you will need the vehicle identification number (VIN) which is a 17 character unique identifier located in the owner’s manual or stamped on the driver’s side door.
We also recommend you arrange a pre-purchase inspection with a qualified mechanic for used car sales.
Learn more from the car buyers checklist.
Department of Transport checks
Department of Transport has free checks you can do using the registration number:
- Registration check – check the car details, e.g. make, model, year, expiry; and
- Account lookup – check if the car has any outstanding payments.
Transfer of ownership
If you purchase from a private seller, you and the seller need to complete transfer of ownership paperwork. For more information see Transport WA’s buy, sell or transfer a vehicle.
When buying at auction, you will usually enter a contract to purchase a car ‘at the fall of the hammer’ after successfully making the highest bid.
Licensed auctioneers have the same obligations as other licensed dealers selling a car, although the process of purchasing a car by auction is different. Auctioneers can sell cars on behalf of private seller or a trader/business/organisation.
If you are purchasing a car auctioned on behalf of a private seller, you will not receive a statutory warranty under the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act.
Most of the Australian Consumer Law consumer guarantees don’t apply to cars sold at an auction run by an agent on behalf of a private seller. However the following consumer guarantees do apply:
- Title to the product;
- Undisturbed possession; and
- No hidden debts or charges.
The law against false or misleading claims also applies to auctions. It is always important to check who the seller is before you buy.
There is no cooling-off period for car purchases when you buy from a licensed dealer or private seller in Western Australia.
Learn more about cancelling a contract.
Financing your car
There are many ways you can finance a car:
- Pay for the car outright;
- Get finance through the dealer;
- Take out a regular car loan; and
- Get a novated lease through your employer.
The age of the car you are purchasing may affect the finance options available to you.
Make sure you understand the terms and conditions before you agree to any finance contract and don’t feel pressured into borrowing more than you can afford. It is worth taking the time to shop around for the best finance deal before committing. Consumers should also avoid taking on additional finance products through buy now pay later.
Insure your car
Take out insurance before you drive your new car home. More advice on insurance is available on MoneySmart’s choosing car insurance.
Try talking to the dealer to resolve any issues. State what the issue/s is and how you would like it resolved. Sample text is available on the sample letter to a car dealer page.
If you are not happy with their response, contact the Consumer Protection Contact Centre on 1300 30 40 54 or by email for further assistance.
If you’re unable to resolve the dispute with the dealer, you can lodge a complaint with Consumer Protection.
Electronic vehicle (EV)
If thinking about buying a used electric vehicle (EV), just like any other car, paying for an independent, professional vehicle inspection can help ensure the vehicle is roadworthy and fit for purpose.
If you inspect it yourself, make sure you take the car for a test drive and check:
- The basics:
- EVs have less brake wear, but you still need to inspect the brake pads and discs.
- Pay attention to tyre wear and check the tread depth. EVs are heavier and may wear tyres more quickly.
- Check the service history, this is likely to be stored digitally in the car's infotainment system instead of a physical logbook.
- Battery condition:
- Consider if the EV driving range is suitable to your needs.
- Check the health of the battery as it will degrade over time and may be expensive to replace – some replacement batteries may cost more than the vehicle to replace.
- The battery packs have liquid cooling systems that may require periodic fluid replacement (usually after about 6 years).
- Look at the estimated range the EV can travel on a full-charge, taking into account the age of the battery.
- EV charger and charging cables:
- Ask if the charging hardware is included with the EV and test that it works.
- Think about your charging options and availability.
- Budget for any electrical work for EV charging at your home.
Don't get taken for a ride - Used car buyer's checklist
Consumer Protection’s Don’t be taken for a ride – used car buyer’s checklist will help you ask the right questions of the seller and find out exactly what you’re buying before you drive away.