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Five questions to ask your used-car dealer

Author: Kate Browne, Finder

Buying a quality second-hand car can save you thousands, especially if it’s only a couple of years old. Yet sometimes you’ll find there’s one thing standing between you and a bargain – the car dealer.

Used-car dealers can be a tricky bunch. Some are fantastic and will go all out to make sure you’re driving away with the best deal possible. Others are known to fudge the facts slightly to sweeten their own end of the deal. Arming yourself with a list of questions to ask your car dealer means that when it comes to making the purchase, you won’t get taken for a ride – just a test drive.

Here are some important questions you should be asking during your showroom showdown:

Can I see the log book?
Even if the car appears to be in perfect nick, make sure you check the log book. This is the Holy Grail of your car’s history. The log book will reveal any salacious details about the vehicle’s past, such as breakdowns, accidents or engine trouble. You’ll also be able to make sure it’s had regular servicing. Cars should check in for a service every six months as a rule, anything less than that and you might be facing maintenance issues sooner than expected.

Where did the vehicle come from?
You don’t want to end up buying a car with a history more colourful than your own. Second-hand traders are required to display information on a car’s windshield about its year of manufacture, odometer reading and warranty details. But if you want to be extra careful, you can look up the vehicle on the NRMA CarHistory Report. The report will give you information about whether the car has been stolen, what it’s odometer reading should be, it’s safety rating and any previous sale listings. Knowing where your car has come from and it’s maintenance history is key to understanding what to expect in the future – you don’t want any nasty surprises in six months time.

What are my financing options?
Whether you’re purchasing a brand new ride or opting for a second-hand one, very few people have the cash to buy a vehicle outright. Car loans can be a good way of paying for your dream ride over time. Yet not all car loans are created equal. Often, you’ll be looking at a difference of thousands of dollars between dealership financing and an independent car loan. It can be easy to be sweet talked into a dealership loan at the car yard, but a loan with a higher interest rate can really add up over time. Taking out a loan with a bank or financier means you’ll be able to drive away with a better rate and a more affordable repayment scheme. But make sure to do your research for applying.

How long is the warranty?
They say the most expensive part of car ownership begins after it’s been sold. A warranty can end up saving you thousands of dollars in the future if you run into any maintenance issues early on. Warranties will differ across dealerships, car makes and models, so it’s important to get your dealer to go over the nitty gritty of your own warranty. You need to have a good understanding about what you are and, most importantly, aren’t covered for. Keep in mind that basic car maintenance will often prevent small issues from becoming bigger in the future.

Is this the best you can do?
There’s no shame in haggling - if you don’t ask, you don’t get! Do your research online and visit a few dealerships to get a good idea of what you should be paying for a particular model. This will be your number one bargaining tool. If a dealer can see you know what you’re talking about, they’ll be more inclined to offer you a better deal. If they refuse to budge on price, see if they can chuck in a few accessories instead, like a couple of tyres or floor mats. This way you’ll still be getting extra bang for your buck.

Buying a car is a big deal, and even though its exciting, it can also be a bit confusing at times. It’s easy to be blindsided in the pressure of the showroom, and when this happens, we can forget to ask about the important stuff. Coming prepared with a list of questions will help you to stay on track with your car dealer and will give you the best possible chance of driving away with a good deal.