Viewing a car
If possible, arrange to view a car on a fair weathered day — it’s easier to spot problems. Ask the seller not to turn on or run the vehicle at least a few hours beforehand. You want to see how the car performs before the engine is warmed up. To check, place your hand on the car’s bonnet — it should feel cool. If you don’t know much about cars, bring someone who does.
If you are viewing a privately owned car, ask the seller if you can view the car at their home or workplace. This way you can get a better sense of who the seller is and how trustworthy they are. If someone says they are a private seller but asks you “which car” you want to view, they might actually be a car dealer pretending to be a private seller.
If you have a good first impression of the car and seller, follow these steps and use the resources on this page before you seal the deal:
- Ask the seller important questions about the car.
- Do some basic checks.
- Take a test drive.
- Check the vehicle’s history and paperwork.
- Get the vehicle inspected by a professional.
Don’t feel pressured to buy on the spot. Take as much time as you need to do checks and inspections and to feel confident about your purchase.
Read more about common problems and how to avoid them when you buy from a private seller or a car dealer.
Questions to ask the seller
Ask these questions when you view a vehicle:
- Is there anything wrong with it?
- Is there any money still owing on it?
- Are there service receipts for any work that’s been done?
- Is there a second set of keys? Getting a second key cut can be very expensive.
- If the vehicle has a cambelt, when was it last changed? Generally, they need to be changed every 100,000km. Depending on the model, this can be very expensive.
- When were the tyres changed? Generally, they need to be replaced every seven years, when the tread depth is less than 3 millimetres deep or if they are showing signs of aging, eg cracks on the sides.
- Is the vehicle insured? It’s important to know if you’ll be liable for damages if you have an accident while test driving.
- Does the car have to be serviced by the original dealer? Many newer cars must be serviced by a dealer to maintain the warranty.
Specific questions to ask a private seller:
- How long have you owned the car?
- Why are you selling the car?
Specific questions to ask a car dealer:
- What on-road costs are covered in the sale price?
- What are your policies if there is a fault after purchase?
What does the extended warranty cover that is over and above the guarantees provided by the Consumer Guarantees Act?
Basic checks when you view a car
Use this checklist to run through simple checks to look for potential problems. These checks aren’t a substitute for a pre-purchase vehicle inspection. To safeguard yourself from buying a lemon, you should get a professional to look over the car before you buy it.
Download this checklist and take it with you when you view a car.