First Car Buying Tips: Save the Lemon for Tequila

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A car is usually the first big purchase you ever make so it makes sense to buy a car that does what you want and takes you where you want to go.


A friend’s daughter, Bec, learned the hard way. Her first car looked great. It was zippy. It was shiny. It had incredibly low kilometres. She bought it privately and the seller seemed really nice and honest and helpful. It was yellow. That, in itself, should have been a giveaway. Within six weeks, her car was spending more time in the mechanic’s garage than on-road. Within six months, that car was in the scrapyard, Bec was peddling a bicycle to get from A to B and still paying off the lemon.

If she’d asked for help, here are the questions and tips we’d have shared before she bought her first car.

  1. Check all documentation. This includes the roadworthy certificate or ‘pink slip’, registration, current CTP insurance and the vehicle’s service log. Check the service history against the seller’s story: is it really a ‘one owner Sunday church driving only’ kind of vehicle? What’s on the odometer?
    Important questions to ask include:

    • Have you owned it since it was new?
      You want to be able to piece together the car’s service history. Be wary about a car that has changed hands several times in a few years.
    • Are you the person who drove it the most?
    • Do you have service records?
      If the seller claims to have done all the maintenance and can’t produce proof (like the log or receipts of work), be wary.
    • Has it been in an accident?
      If the car has been in an accident, ask about the extent of the damage, the cost of repairs, and the mechanic that did the work.
    • Why are you selling the car?
      Look for a plausible explanation rather than an interesting story. If the answer sounds sus, it probably is!
  2. Use your senses. Online car ads and internet dating sites have a lot in common. What’s onscreen may not be the reality. Take time to look over the car thoroughly. Note any dents, scratches, signs of rust or other wear. Has oil or water pooled under the car? What condition are the tyres? Use your nose. Does it smell damp or musty inside? There could be a water leak. Use your ears: listen out for strange engine noises and rattles. Take a friend or parent who knows something about what’s under the hood if you don’t.
  3. Revs mean more than speed. Run a vehicle history report. Some still refer to this as REVS (Register of Encumbered Vehicles): it’s now called a PPSR (Personal Property Securities Register). For this, you need the Vehicle Inspection Number on the engine. The report will tell you whether it’s got money owing on it, has been written-off or stolen. It’ll also match history with kilometres.
  4. Get behind the wheel. You need to drive the car – and not just around the block for 5 minutes like Little Ms Innocence did with my lemon. Take it out on a highway, cruise a few back roads, see how it handles different driving conditions.
  5. Get an independent expert opinion. Either ask your local mechanic to give the car a once-over or book your state’s auto club (RACQ, RACV, NRMA etc) to carry out a thorough car health check for safety and potential problems.

Ask the right questions, find the right car and, with your Ezilend loan, you’ll soon be driving down Independence Lane and the only lemon you’ll need will be with the tequila, later.

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