Buying your first car

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If you’re buying your first car, here’s a few things to consider:

New or used?

Before you go car shopping, decide if you want a new or used car.

New cars provide peace of mind with no history of accidents or services, and they are covered by warranty. However, they can be more expensive and will usually depreciate faster than a used car.

Used cars can be less expensive but come with more risk. Checking the service history and getting an inspection can help, but there's no guarantee of good performance. A limited or no statutory warranty may apply, depending on the car's age.

Even if there is no statutory warranty, the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) consumer guarantees can still apply when buying from a dealer but not in private sales.

Car buyers checklist
Car buyers checklist, by undefined

Don't get taken for a ride - complete the 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.

Download and save the PDF to your device to fill it out and keep it handy.

Setting a budget

When setting a budget, remember to consider all purchase-related costs, such as vehicle licence duty (previously known as stamp duty), registration, servicing, insurance, fuel and other running costs.

The MoneySmart cars website can help you to work out the cost of buying and running your car.

Dealer, auction or private sale

Most people purchase a car from dealers or private sellers, but you can also buy cars at auction or even import them from overseas.


Car dealers are a great choice if you want to check out a wide range of cars, take them for a test drive and get expert advice.


When buying a car from a dealer, you'll need to sign a contract of sale. This is a legally binding document, so only sign if you're committed to the purchase.

Before signing the contract, make sure it shows:

The dealer must provide you with a copy of the contract at the time of signing.

You can cancel the purchase at any time before you and the dealer have signed the contract. 

Cooling off period

Remember, there is no cooling-off period for car purchases in WA once a contract has been signed by both parties.

If you need to cancel the contract after signing, the dealer may ask you to pay ‘pre-estimated damages’ for losses as a result of the sale not going ahead. In Western Australia, these damages cannot be more than five per cent of the total purchase price of the car. 

Learn more about cancelling a contract with a dealer

Total vehicle cost

The dealer should provide you with a breakdown of all mandatory costs associated with purchasing your new car before you sign your contract, such as:

  1. The price of the car;
  2. Vehicle licence duty, previously known as stamp duty;
  3. Dealer delivery charges; and
  4. Any other fees such as finance costs to be settled before you can take possession of the car.

Special contract conditions

You can add your specific conditions to a contract of sale, as long as they don’t take away the standard terms of the contract. An example is making a contract subject to a specific delivery date or getting finance approval.

Before you sign the contract, make sure any special conditions are written in full and any blank spaces or irrelevant conditions are crossed out, initialled, and dated by you (the buyer) and the dealer (seller).

Private seller

Buying a car from a private seller can be cheaper but make sure you do your pre-purchase checks thoroughly because the ACL does not apply to private sales so you are not covered by statutory warranties or consumer guarantees. Only vehicles bought from licensed dealers are covered by the Motor Vehicles Dealers Act.

We have developed a Don’t be taken for a ride – used car buyer’s checklist to help you.

PPSR Check

Before purchasing a used car, check it hasn't previously been written-off, stolen, and that there are no outstanding debts, by doing a $2 PPSR search.

A PPSR search uses 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. You can access the PPSR online or by calling 1300 007 777. Watch out for unauthorised websites which link back to this address and charge much more.

Understand the risks of repairable write-offs

If the car is less than 15 years old, a PPSR search will include information about whether the vehicle has been written-off.

A repairable write-off (RWO) means the car has sustained damage which has been repaired and the car has been re-registered.

Even though the vehicle has been repaired, a RWO could have other unknown issues, you may struggle to get full insurance cover, or you may discover that the vehicle has a lower market value.

If you buy from a dealer, the information displayed with the vehicle will include whether the vehicle is a RWO (if it is less than 15 years old).

Transfer of ownership

If you buy from a private seller, you need to complete transfer of ownership paperwork to make the sale official. Visit the WA Department of Transport’s Buy, sell or transfer a vehicle for more information. If you buy from a licensed dealer, the dealer must do this.


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
  • 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.

Guarantees and warranties

Consumer guarantees

Australian Consumer Law gives you rights known as consumer guarantees when you buy a car from a licensed dealer. ACL consumer guarantees don’t apply when buying from a private seller.


Most new and used cars purchased from a licensed dealer and auctioneer in Australia are covered by a warranty – a manufacturer's warranty if the car is new, or a statutory warranty if the car is used and meets certain conditions.

If the car has any time remaining on the manufacturer's warranty or extended warranty from the previous owner, ask the seller to transfer it to you. It is important to verify if any warranty is still valid by checking with the dealer or the warranty provider if it is a used car.

If you buy from a dealer, the dealer must give you an information statement about the statutory warranty, if any, that applies. The information statement contains important details about what is and is not covered by the statutory warranty.

Learn more about warranties when buying a vehicle. 

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.

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.

Resolving disputes

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.

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