What to look out for when buying a used car

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What to look out for when buying a used car

Welcome to Sisters In Law, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all of your legal problems. This week, our resident lawyers and real-life sisters Alison and Jillian Barrett from Maurice Blackburn advise about your rights when buying a second hand car.


I recently bought a second-hand car off Facebook Marketplace from a bloke who lived a few suburbs away. He seemed nice enough when I met him and I gave the car a quick test drive before I bought it for $15,000.

Problem is, I took it home and a week later the engine blew up. It’s going to cost thousands to fix and I’m well out of pocket.

My mechanic said there’s a good chance the bloke knew it was dodgy before he told it – the engine may even be the reason why he sold it.

What can I do about this? I’m livid that I’ve been caught up in something that’s going to cost me so much to fix. – Anton, WA


This must be incredibly frustrating for you, Anton. We’d recommend that you don’t follow the advice of our (non-lawyer) colleague who we were discussing your plight with … he indicated a visit with a ‘standover man’ might get you the result you want. This would likely just see you criminally charged.

You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘caveat emptor,’ which means ‘buyer beware’ in Latin. Essentially, the buyer assumes the risk that a product may have defects or fail to meet expectations.

There is little protection when buying a used car privately in Australia, as there are no ‘lemon laws’, unlike a number of other countries.

Unfortunately, unlike other states and territories in Australia, WA doesn’t require a roadworthy check of a car being sold, which makes the process much simpler and less stressful for the seller, but puts more responsibility on the buyer to do the due diligence to establish the car they are buying is roadworthy.

If you had purchased your car from a dealer you would have some protection via consumer guarantees and warranties, however, as you didn’t you’re quite limited in options.

You may try to:

1. Speak to the seller and try and resolve it directly – keep a record of these discussions if you’re not doing it in writing, including who you spoke to, when and what was said. There is no obligation on the seller to refund you.

2. If you used a credit card to purchase the car, contact your credit card provider and request a “chargeback” for the car “not being as described”. The provider will investigate and run the dispute for you.

Here are some tips for buying a car:

1. Ask to see the vehicle’s service history, as if it has been regularly serviced by a qualified mechanic, you’re less likely to have any problems with the car.

2. Consider having it inspected by RAC WA vehicle inspection, an Authorised Inspection Station provider, or a qualified mechanic.

3. Check if the car comes with a statutory warranty.

4. Obtain the Vehicle Identification Number and search the Personal Properties Security.

Register to check if there are any outstanding debts, the vehicle is stolen or has been written off as, while the Australian Consumer Law provides guarantees as to clear title, undisturbed possession and undisclosed securities, you should still carry out the search to be sure.

Consider getting independent legal advice from your local community legal centre, legal aid office or lawyer for more specific information about what options are available and those that suit your circumstances.

This legal information is general in nature and should not be regarded as specific legal advice or relied upon. Persons requiring particular legal advice should consult a solicitor.

If you have a legal question you would like Alison and Jillian to answer, please email stories@news.com.au

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