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Expert tips for buying a used car

Buying secondhand in Port Macquarie shouldn't be a lottery. Here's a commonsense check-list for buying a Used Car on the Mid North Coast.

If you think shopping for a new car in Port Macquarie is hard, buying a used one is a far greater challenge. Get it right and you could enjoy years of affordable, mostly trouble-free motoring — get it wrong and you could be in for a nightmare ride.

An advantage in buying new in Port Macquarie is that the car comes fresh from the factory and it's the same as the next one down the production line. Every used car is different and has to be assessed in that light.

For starters, they may have been checked and serviced regularly or neglected, garaged or left in the elements, or possibly been in a crash.

They differ by virtue of the driving habits and locations of the various owners. Country cars driven on gravel roads might suffer sandblasting of the paint while in those used near the coast rust is more prevalent.

Buying a used car doesn't have to be a lottery. By understanding the potential pitfalls and following a few basic guidelines you can markedly improve the odds of coming up with a winner.

Where to buy

For a New car on the mid-north coast, there is only the dealer. For a used car in Port Macquarie, there are also car yards, auctions or private vendors.

If the car is yours when the hammer falls, there's no warranty and no comeback.

Buying from a dealer in Port Macquarie is the easiest and safest, and come's with consumer guarantees (warranty). Dealers on the mid north coast have to cover expenses such as rent and wages, always detail their cars so they present well, and by law they have to provide a warranty with every sale — and that extra cost is absorbed into the selling price.

The dealer also has to guarantee that the vehicle is free of encumbrances such as finance, isn't on the written-off register and the odometer reading is correct. Port Macquarie Car Dealers will give you the guarantee of purchasing an un-encumbered vehicle at time of sale.

There's also the important advantage of being able to trade in your current car, eliminating the potentially frustrating process of selling privately.

Buying at auction has to be the least expensive. You can sometimes buy at trade price and also over retail price if you don't do your research.

The downside: you can inspect cars before the auction but can't drive them. If the car is yours when the hammer falls, there's no warranty and no comeback. This can lead to spending 100's, if not 1000's on mechanical and cosmetic repairs.

Buying from a private seller also has its pitfalls. You have to take the vendor's word as to the history of the car and there's no recourse if you're not happy with it after handing over the money.

Extra caution is needed. If the seller suggests meeting in a public place, car park or shopping centre, be wary — if the seller's house is tidy, it is a good indication the car has been cared for.

What to check

Murray Aitken, a 20-year veteran of the used car trade, says there are numerous things to check pre-purchase. Foremost is a current roadworthiness certificate.

"It's almost impossible to write up a dodgy roadworthy these days," Aitken says. "There is so much oversight of roadworthy testers now that it's not worth them cutting corners."

Buying a used car without that paperwork means taking a huge risk and could end up being a costly mistake.

Next on Aitken's must-do list for buying a used car is the condition of the interior. There should be no rips or splits in the trim, it should be clean, and there shouldn't be any odd smells.

"A clean interior tells you the car has been well looked after," Murray says.

Next, lift the bonnet and cast an eye over the engine. It should be clean and there shouldn't be any leaks visible.

Tyres tell you a lot about a car and its suspension. If all is in order, the tyres should wear evenly across the tread surface — wear on one shoulder of a tyre shows the wheel alignment is out, for example.

When checking the tyres, don't forget the spare — it it's worn oddly, look again for which corner of the used car it came from.

The condition of the body and paint can also tell you about how a used car has been treated. Bumps and scrapes show the driver hasn't been very careful (and that could extend to other areas) and can be expensive to repair.

Faded or blotchy paint suggests a lack of attention and exposure to the elements rather than being garaged.

The fact is that cars wear more as distances climb — but one that hasn't been driven much can be costly, too.

When checking an SUV or 4x4 Ute look for scratches and scrapes along the body sides that could indicate bush use. Check also for damage to the underbody from use off-road.

"Few SUVs ever go off-road, so if you suspect a car has been used that way, walk away from it," Aitken says.

Regular servicing of used cars is the key to a long trouble-free life for all used cars, so check the service book, which should have a record of regular maintenance.

If all stacks up take the used car for a test drive, listening for odd noises from the engine or suspension, and pay particular attention to the automatic transmission.

Most new & used car brands in recent years have begun to fit new types of automatics, such as the dual-clutch and constantly variable transmission.

The theory behind the technology is wonderful but the execution hasn't been without its problems. There have been serious issues with the DSGs in many makes and the CVT has been affected by driveability problems.

Look for hesitation on takeoff, surging or shuddering on acceleration, any apparent hesitation or incorrect selection of gears.

Mileage matters

Everyone hopes to find a low-km, one-owner used car that has been pampered and sparingly driven. The fact is that new & used cars wear more as distances climb — but one that hasn't been driven much can be costly, too.

"Things like batteries, radiators and rubber components such as radiator hoses and cam timing belts all deteriorate," says mechanic Don Evans. "Tyres can also look new or barely worn, but might have exceeded their life span." Brakes can also seize up from lack of use.

Buying options

Auction - Trade prices, no test drive, no warranty/guarantee

Dealer - Negotiable prices, cooling-off period (where applicable), warranty, test drive, trade-ins

Private seller - Negotiable prices, test drive, no warranty/guarantee

Murray's checklist

1) Current roadworthy certificate
2) Record of regular servicing
3) Clean and tidy interior
4) Clean and leak-free engine
5) Even tyre wear
6) Body free of bumps or scrapes
7) No sign of off-road use

What you can buy with confidence

Toyota Camry - Boring but bulletproof. What else can you say?

Mazda3 - Safe and sound, little goes wrong with them.

Honda Civic - Safe and sound, little goes wrong with them

Kia Sportage - Lots to like and nothing to be concerned about.

Toyota Corolla - Well built, never lets you down and resale is good.

Hyundai i30 - Rated right up there and ticks all the right boxes.

Suzuki Swift - Well built, never lets you down and resale is good.

Isuzu D-Max - Well built, never lets you down and good resale