Buying a used car comes with inherent risk, particularly for those not mechanically minded. So, it can understandably be an intimidating and overwhelming experience. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can reduce the risks when buying a used vehicle.

Do your research first

By doing your research ahead of time, before you come face-to-face with the seller, you’ll go into a purchase more knowledgeable about the vehicle you’re interested in. This can help you ask better questions and ensure you’re getting a good deal.

Knowing what type of vehicle you need and your realistic budget can help remove some of the uncertainty at decision making time. It also helps remove time pressure and helps prevent the rush purchase of a poor-quality used vehicle.

Take it for a test drive

Taking a car for a test drive is a fundamental part of the purchase decision. If the seller refuses a test drive, ask them why; it is a basic expectation to test drive a vehicle before purchase. Not only does it help you decide if the car is right for you, it also confirms the car drives well and is mechanically sound.

Seek out a registered dealer

Where possible, it’s recommended to buy from a registered car dealer, who has legal requirements under the Consumers Guarantee Act (CGA). Buying privately offers you less protection. If, however, you want to purchase privately, we recommend doing as much research as possible on the seller and the vehicle and be comfortable with what rights you have. Consumer Protection offers some good advice.

Get a mechanic’s check

Getting a professional, independent mechanic to do a check of the vehicle can help identify hidden problems. This is particularly recommended for any private purchases. They can also point out any likely future costs or repairs to consider when deciding what to offer for the car.

Carefully check the paperwork

Used cars for sale should have a warrant of fitness that’s less than one month old. A current warrant of fitness and registration are legal requirements for driving any vehicle on the road. Vehicle history reports should provide more detail on the previous ownership of the car and indicate whether or not it has been properly maintained. If it has, it’s likely to be more reliable.

If the dealer offers you an extended vehicle warranty, carefully read what it covers beyond the Consumers Guarantee Act. Generally, the older the car, the more exclusions and clauses a warranty is likely to have. Carefully read the purchase contract agreements and any fine print before signing and handing over your money.


After you’ve bought a used car, it’s good practice to take it for regular servicing, as older vehicles are more likely to run into problems through wear and tear. Regular servicing and proper maintenance can help your car run safer and for longer.