Consumer Protection is here to help you through the process with tips on what to check before buying a car.

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What to check before buying a used car

For most Kiwis buying a car is a major purchase. There are lots of decisions to make and most of us aren’t mechanics.

With friends, family – and salespeople all offering opinions, it’s hard to know who to listen to.

But never fear, Consumer Protection is here. We’ll guide you through the process with independent advice so you can feel confident about your decisions when buying a used car.

Protect yourself from common problems

Here are some additional elements to check – and risks to be aware of when buying a used car:

Consumer Information Notice (CIN) [PDF, 44 KB] provides information about a used motor vehicle’s history. It includes:

  • details about the seller
  • Information on previous owners including if there is any money owing on the car
  • details about whether or not the car was imported as damaged vehicle
  • the total price to get the vehicle on the road

Motor vehicle traders must attach an accurate and reliable Consumer Information Notice (CIN) to any second-hand vehicle, where the transaction takes place. They also have to provide you with a copy of the CIN, and ask you to sign it when you buy a used vehicle.

If you have problems with the vehicle later on, the CIN provides evidence of the details you received when you bought the vehicle.

Private car sales don’t need a CIN.

If there is money owing on a vehicle you purchase then you risk losing it – whether or not the security interest is disclosed. A security interest is the right a finance company has to repossess a borrower’s belongings, eg their car, if the borrower does not pay back their loan.

So, before you buy a car, make sure you check if there is any money owing on it.

You can find out if there is a valid security interest registered on the vehicle by using the PPSR mobile-friendly search.

PPSR mobile-friendly search(external external link) (external external link) – Personal Property Securities Register

If the used vehicle you want to buy doesn't have a current WOF it must be sold ‘as is where is’. In this case, you should give the seller a signed and dated letter stating that the vehicle will not be driven on the road except for the purpose of getting a new WOF (this is a protection for the seller).

When the car you want is too far away, you might be tempted to buy it without seeing it and have it delivered. This is risky but if you know what you’re getting into, you can make an informed decision.

Pre-purchase checklist

1. Work out your priorities

What do you really need?

2. Check your finances

How much do you want to spend?

  • Look at how much money you have coming in and going out
  • Estimate the total cost of a car including running costs
  • If you get a loan, shop for the best interest rates and get pre-approval from a lender

3. View and test cars

Does it look and feel right?

  • Check important documents
    • Consumer Information Notice (CIN)
    • service receipts
    • current warrant of fitness (WoF)
    • current licence (rego)
  • Do basic checks
  • Take it for a test drive

4. Call in the experts

Does everything stack up?

  • Identify hidden problems
  • Get the car inspected
    • find pre-purchase vehicle inspection provider

5. Before you sign on the dotted line

Are you getting the best deal?

  • Be wary of any offers too good to be true
  • Calculate car’s true cost if you borrow
  • Make sure any add-ons, eg extended warranties and accessories, are worth it
  • Read any contracts or agreements carefully

6. Let’s go

How can you get on the road?

  • Let NZ Transport Agency know you bought a car
  • Safeguard yourself with insurance
  • Stay road worthy with regular servicing and current WoF and licence (rego)
  • Save sales documents and service receipts, CIN notices and all other related paperwork to avoid problems