Buying a car

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Buying your first car can be very exciting!  It’s the taste of freedom as you cruise along listening to your favourite music.  When you’re buying a car, it’s really important to do your homework so you don’t end up with a dud. This page outlines so important things you can do to make sure you get a good car that’s reliable.

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To get started, check out this video about things to look out for when buying a car:

Going for a Test Drive

It is always a good idea to test-drive a vehicle before you buy it.  Some dealers won’t let you test drive a car if you’re under 25, so it’s good to check with them.  If they do let you drive it, make sure you understand any agreement you sign. For example, many car dealerships will make you agree to pay for any damage that you cause while test-driving a car.

I’m thinking of buying a second-hand car – what should I look out for?

There are a few things you should always do before you buy a second-hand or used car:

  1. Ask the right questions: make sure that you ask for as much information about the car as possible.  It’s a good idea to take a look at all the logbooks (these show when the car was serviced). This is useful if you want to see that the previous owner has taken good and proper care of it. It’s also a good idea to ask if the car has been in any accidents. If you have a friend or parent who is really good with cars, let them come with you to take a look at it.  Remember, two sets of eyes are always better than one.
  2. Get it inspected by a reliable, independent mechanic or vehicle inspector.  An inspector can come to you at the owner’s house to look at the car. To find a service which can do this, search the internet for “used car vehicle inspection service”.
  3. Do a PPSR check to see if there is any finance owing on the car at 
  4. Do a registration check to see if the car is registered:

When you buy a used car, you don’t know if the previous owner still owes money on it.  The law is very complicated and in some cases you could be caught up paying off someone else’s debt, even though you paid for the car yourself! The way to avoid this is to do a check on the PPSR register. The system will tell you if there is any money owing on the car.  If there is, DON’T BUY IT. If the car has no money owing on it then you can get a PPSR certificate saying that the car is unencumbered.

You are only protected if you do a search on the day you buy the car or up to one day before.

Always remember to:

  • Ask for a receipt – this is really important in case something goes wrong – make sure they include:
  • both your names
  • the amount you paid
  • the car engine details
  • the owner’s full name, address and mobile phone number.

It’s also a good idea to get the owner to show you the registration papers and check that this matches his or her licence.

What if I’ve bought a car but have changed my mind – can I give it back and get my money back?

If you purchase a vehicle from a dealer, you will probably have to sign a contract. This means there is a legal agreement between you and the dealer.   It is very important that you read the contract carefully before you sign it. If there is anything you do not understand or feel is unfair, you should get legal advice.  Whatever you do, don’t sign something you don’t understand!!! Once you sign a contract, it is very difficult to undo it! If you are under 18 and sign a contact, in most instances you will be bound by it.

If you get a used car from a car dealership, you may be entitled to a “cooling off” period.  This gives you time to change your mind if you decide the car is too expensive for you or you don’t like it. The cooling off period in South Australia is two days.  If you are still within the cooling off period, you should contact the dealership immediately.  

What if I want to get a loan to buy a car?

If you buy a vehicle from a dealership, the dealer may offer to arrange a loan for you (this is sometimes called ‘finance’).  This means they will sell you the car and you will also pay the car off through them. Although this might seem very attractive, getting a loan through a dealership is often more expensive than other options (such as a loan from a bank or credit union).  That’s why it’s a good idea to shop around to get finance.

It is against the law for a dealer to put pressure on you to use their finance instead of going somewhere else, like a bank.  If this happens, you should contact SA Consumer and Business Services on 131 882 or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission on 1300 302 502.

To find out some important tips about budgeting for a car loan check out the ASIC MoneySmart website at:

Someone won’t sell me a car because of my age, race or gender – is this legal?

A car dealer should not refuse to sell you a car just because you are under 18. This is called age discrimination and is against the law. You can also make a complaint about discrimination. It’s against the law if a car dealer refuses to sell you a car because of your race, gender, sexuality, disability, marital status or pregnancy. It’s also against the law if a car dealer sexually harasses you while you are looking to buy a car.  

If you are under 25 and this has happened to you, you can get help here.  If you are over 25, please contact Legal Aid Commission South Australia on 1300 366 424.

I bought a used car from a dealer and there are problems - what can I do?

If you buy a car from a dealer, they usually have to give you a warranty for a certain period of time. A warranty means they will agree to repair any defects in the car so that it is in a reasonable condition.    The warranty is different depending on the condition of the car:

  • Second hand car that cost between $3001 and $6000: Covered by warranty for two months or until driven 3000 km after being sold, whichever happens first.
  • Second hand car that cost over $6000: Covered under warranty for 3 months or until driven 5000km after sale.
  • Second hand vehicle that cost less than $3000: There’s no warranty for cars like this. If a dealer wants to sell you a car with no warranty, they have to put a notice on it that says this. If they don’t do this and you suffer loss as a result, you could have a right to claim compensation from the Second-Hand Vehicle Compensation Fund.  If you’re under 25 and want more information about this, you can get help here..  If you’re over 25, please contact Legal Services Commission of South Australia on 1300 366 424.

There are some things that warranties don’t cover.  This includes:

  • defects in tyres and batteries
  • things which happen as a result of accidents or your misuse of the car
  • defects on second hand cars which are covered by a defect notice.

I bought a used car privately (not from a dealer) and there are problems – what can I do?

If you’ve bought a used car from an individual (not a dealer), you don’t have the same protections in terms of warranties. If there are problems, it’s really important that you speak to a lawyer and get advice about it.   If someone has lied to you about the condition of the car, you may be able to take legal action against them.

If you are under 25 and you need advice, you can get free information and advice here.

If you are over 25, please contact Legal Services Commission of South Australia on 1300 366 424.

I’ve bought a car – how do I register it and do I need insurance?

Before you drive a car, you have to make sure it’s registered.  After you have bought a car, you have 14 days to get it registered or (if it is a second hand car) to transfer the registration into your name. You can register a car or transfer registration by going to

It’s also important to make sure you have insurance on your car.  This will cover you in case you damage someone else’s car while you’re driving, for example in an accident.  For more information on getting insurance, check out our insurance page.

If you’re under 25 and you have a question about buying a car that we haven’t answered here, please ask us a question here and we can give you some free information and advice.

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