Woman considers key costs before buying a car

Beat Buyer’s Regret with This Car Buying Checklist


Looking for a new set of wheels? Chances are, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the driver’s seat of your next car, so you want to make the right choice. Would a new-and-used car buying checklist help?


If you’re tempted to drag someone else car shopping with you so you’ll be taken seriously, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, many people feel vulnerable, patronised and/or misunderstood by dealerships (women especially, despite them heavily influencing car purchase decisions).


If you’d rather poke out your own eyeballs than have that cringe-worthy convo with a car dealer, we’ve got you covered. Here is a checklist of tips for buying your next car.


Decide What You Need From Your Car (And Stick To It)


Buying a car is a big deal, whether you’re spending $10k or $100k. When you’re comparing models and all their various features, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment.


The decision gets even more confusing when you’re buying a used car and need to consider the number of kms, service history and so on.


Whether buying new or used, one of the best ways to deal with pushy salespeople is to be very clear about what you do and don’t want from your next car.


It’s time to make a list of features that are important to you. Consider aspects such as these below:


Your usage and lifestyle needs

  • What sort of driving do you do – inner city, freeways, country roads or a mix?
  • Do you love lengthy road trips or are they rare?
  • Do you often need to park in tight spaces?
  • How big does it need to be for family, friends and pets?
  • How much storage do you need for hobby and other equipment?
  • Will you need to tow a caravan/trailer?
  • Which technology do you need it to be equipped with?
  • What other functional and luxury features do you need, and which can you live without?
  • How ‘safe’ a car do you need it to be, and what safety rating will you be happy with?
  • Are you looking for something new or used, and if the latter what number of kms is your limit?


Emissions, fuel economy vs power

  • Compare the pros and cons of the different fuel types for price, ongoing costs and their effect on the environment.
  • How much power do you need your car to have? Does it need enough grunt to get you out of a tight spot while 4-wheel-driving? Or tow a caravan or camper trailer? <links to upcoming caravan article>


Will your needs change?

  • Do you have a growing family and need a car that will grow with you?
  • Are you looking to downsize (and increase the fun) now your kids have flown the coop?
  • Will you change jobs or move homes, making a change to the type of driving you do?


Ask friends, family and experts

  • Get the no-holds-barred opinions from friends or family with similar lifestyles or make/model cars that you’re considering
  • Inform yourself about the overall market by reading up on quality cars (eg. cars of the year or best value cars of the year)
  • Read the reviews online to compare models



Compare and Apply for Finance First


If you’re not buying from savings, getting your finance approved before you walk into the car yard will give you a clear budget for your next car. You’ll love the confidence you get from being able stand your ground (and avoid those nasty interest rates on dealership finance deals).


Contact your usual bank, sure, but be sure to shop around first. Do your research online through comparison websites and individual lenders’ websites. Give yourself leverage with financial institutions by knowing what deals are available to you elsewhere. You’d be surprised how often they discount interest rates for those who ask.


If a car ticks all the right boxes but is just out of budget, make an offer that suits you – and be prepared to walk if the dealer can’t meet your request. There could be another dealership happy to take your offer or you might find the salesperson running after you.


If your dealer makes a reasonable offer, research the expected running costs before you commit. Redbook will give you an idea of the rough value of your car but you should also factor in other ongoing costs, such as comprehensive car insurance.


It’s important to get the right insurance for your circumstances. PD Insurance can help you find ways to save on your next premium. For example, did you know we give discounts to people who are the only driver of their car?


Right, let’s keep going with this car buying checklist.



Ask the Right Questions

When it comes to buying your next car in a car yard remember that ‘the more the better’ should be your mantra for asking questions. You’re spending thousands of dollars and you have a right to ask all the questions you need to make an informed decision.


These range from ‘does the car have a service history’ (used cars) to ‘what are the on-road costs’ (new) to ‘what are the safety features’ (used and new). We’ve explored a range of these questions to ask when buying a car here in this blog post.



Check, Check and Double Check, Before You Purchase

Before you buy there are a couple of other boxes to tick for the ultimate confident car purchase.



Take the car for a test drive

Turn the radio off, shush anyone in the car with you and pay close attention to the test drive. Listen for rattles in the suspension and any clunks when turning corners. Ask yourself:

  • Is the clutch shuddering?
  • Do the gears shift nicely?
  • Is there smoke coming out of the vehicle (especially at start up as this can indicate engine wear)?
  • Am I driving comfortably?
  • Is anything else bothering me about the sound or feel of the car?


Drive the car at different speeds to see how it handles and what it does. You might also like to check the:

  • Aircon – is it cold? Does it warm up? Is there a strange smell (that could indicate it needs re-gassing)
  • Windows and mirrors – do they work? The electronics can fail over time and prevent you from adjusting them
  • Interior and seats – is there damage to the cloth or leather? Is the steering wheel peeling? Can the seat/s be easily adjusted?



Used car? Get a pro to check over it

The average kilometres of used cars varies, but over their lifetime around 9,500-12,500kms/year is normal. If your car’s kms are too low that might be a red flag.


Our advice? Source a thorough check of your car through an independent mechanical inspection. You should request a detailed report that covers areas including:

  • Engine, radiator, coolant and fluid
  • Lights and body
  • Brakes, clutch, suspension and exhaust
  • Seat belts and interior


If you’re buying a diesel, book it in with a specialist diesel mechanic. In particular, ask them to tell you how healthy the diesel particulate filter is. This part might cost you $10k to replace.



Take This Car Buying Checklist With You 

Now you’ve narrowed down your car choices, know what to look for in your next car and what questions to ask the car salesperson, you can feel confident you’re on the road to buying the right car for you.


If in doubt, make sure you understand your rights under the statutory warranty (check the details in your state) and how the cooling off period applies to you.



Over to You

Got any more tips to add? Any other checks for the car buying checklist? Let us know in the comment section below.


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