Buying a used car is the ideal option for many. Whether you're looking to save cash or want something older but reliable, there are thousands of used cars on the market to choose from.

But when it comes to picking the right vehicle, what should you be checking? To avoid a potentially costly mechanic bill, it's worth asking the right questions upfront.

Luckily, we're the experts when it comes to used cars. Here are seven things you should check out before finalising your purchase.

Find Out What The Stamp Duty Will Be On Your Next Car

1. Engine checks

Before you decide you like a car based on face value, it's worth going under the hood for a closer look.

Even if you aren't particularly savvy about engines, you'll be able to take a quick glance to notice glaring issues. For example, rust or other signs of damage may be a concern. You can also check the oil dipstick to confirm whether the oil is the right colour. For petrol, that's typically a honey colour, while diesel is black.

Beyond how the engine looks, you should also test drive the car if possible in order to see how it feels. If the car struggles to start or is extremely loud, these are warning signs. Check if there are any issues with the engine while idling, and make sure there's no loud bangs or knocks as you drive. Engines are costly to fix, so the last thing you want is an expensive bill for your new car.

Read Our Guide To Buying A Used Car Here

2. Look for leaks

Leaks can spell serious trouble for the average used car. While some leaks can be harder to spot than others, you can start with the basics. Check underneath where the vehicle is parked. Any signs of oil leakage will be visible on the drive or road.

In some cases, a layer of sludge or mud on the underside of a car can indicate a leak. This is because dirt and dust sticks to oil, creating that layer of crust on the underside.

When you check the engine, you should also look for signs of leakage. While oil is most common, other leaks can occur. Green, pink, or yellow leaks may be coolant. A rusty brown leak can indicate an issue with the gearbox or power steering. Check carefully and ensure that any old stains are from past issues that have been fixed before you purchase.

See The 15 Questions To Ask When Buying A Used Car

3. Tyre wear

It's not unusual for a used car to have worn tyres. After all, the vehicle has already been driven, and it's a given that their tyres may need replacing sooner than a new vehicle. But beyond regular wear, there are a few things to look out for. Tyres should be worn evenly across the front and back. Specific wear that's more noticeable on one side than the other can be down to suspension issues.

Beyond that, highly worn tyres aren't safe to drive on. So, if you're buying a used car where the treads are below the minimum depth, they'll need replacing quickly. You'll also want to check for the spare tyre if there is one. You should make sure this is in good condition and doesn't require replacement too.

4. Exhaust sounds and smoke

Buying an older car may not be the cleanest option out there. But for the exhaust, this shouldn't mean clouds of smoke or loud noises when you start up the car.

Even cars that are years old aren't supposed to send up large amounts of smoke. If a used car has a particularly loud exhaust and releases black or dark-coloured smoke, it can signify a larger issue. One that's costly when it comes to repairs and replacements.

Read About 5 Of The Best 4WD's In Australia

5. Interior examination

The interior of any vehicle is an important consideration. In used cars, it can be easy to settle for second best. But there are tell-tale signs you'll want to look out for. Firstly, all interior seat belts should be checked thoroughly.

Confirm if their locking mechanisms work and that extension and retraction is smooth. You'll also want to see if there are any nasty smells in the car, as these can be very difficult to remove.

It's a fact that you get what you get with the interior of a used car. But one that's better maintained with less damage to the upholstery, plastics, and carpet is the better choice for you. Ripped seats and damaged carpets can cause a smell. In some cases, they potentially offer a place for pests to hide inside the car before you purchase.

Buying From A Private Seller? Find Out What You Need To Know Before Shaking Hands

6. Check the exterior 

Alongside the interior, you'll also want to check the exterior of a used car thoroughly. Firstly, check for any issues with the doors and boot. Open and close them a few times to ensure they are smooth and latch correctly.

You'll then want to check for rust or other damage like gouges, dents, or holes. Minor scrapes and repair signs usually aren't a cause for concern, provided repairs were carried out correctly.

You must inspect any used car outside in daylight. This practice can help you see any problems immediately. You'll also be able to tell better if there are signs of extreme off-road use. Worn, faded paint can also be a sign of a weather-exposed car, indicating more reckless care overall.

Related Reading: 7 Best Second-Hand Cars Australia

7. Check out all the paperwork

Even if a used car looks perfect in person, you should never skip your checks on paperwork. Take a look at any servicing information the owner has and all ownership papers too.

The VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, on the car should match the information on all the provided documents. For extra security, you can also check the model and year of the vehicle online to ensure what you see is what you get.

Need to find a reliable, affordable used car? Cartopia is the place to start. Browse our selection of used vehicles online the find the perfect one for you. With the checklist above, you have all the information you need to find the right car for the job.

For a great deal on financing your new purchase, contact Australia's best reviewed finance broker on 1300 Credit (1300 273 348) today or visit

Jordan Ballard

Jordan Ballard

Automotive Content Editor

Jordan is a car finance and automotive industry specialist at Only Cars. With over 20 years of experience with frontline and management roles in sales, finance and other areas, Jordan has an incredible understanding of the automotive industry. As Automotive Content Editor, Jordan loves sharing his passion for cars with the Only Cars audience.