Our guide to buying a good car on a budget

Buying a used car on a limited budget can be risky but not all of us can spend $15,000 on a car. Here are some tips to help reduce the risk and get the best car you can afford.

Be flexible - Most car buying guides will tell you to work out what you really need/want. When you’re on a tight budget it also helps to keep an open mind. If you need a people mover then stick to looking at people movers. However, if you just need a good set of wheels then you need to cast your net as wide as possible.

Avoid the obvious – Everyone from your dad to your mechanic will probably tell you to buy a popular car like a Corolla. The problem is everyone is getting the same advice. Suddenly you realise your $5000 budget will only buy you a scruffy 15 year old Corolla with sky high mileage and ‘maps of Australia’ stains on the seats. Look outside the box and consider all makes and models.

Prioritise your search criterior - Rather than narrow to make, model and colour, prioritise the history instead. By this I mean look for cars with low ownership and a full, documented service history. Ideally look for cars that have had a good life with careful owners - the general overall condition and cleanliness of the interior will tell some of the story, the service books the rest.

Don’t be scared of high mileage - A low owner car with 200,000kms on the clock may be much better than one with low mileage but loads of owners and incomplete service records.

Do your research - Using Google you can find out a lot about a certain model of car. Much of what you find will be negative owner reviews but you’ll find that with any car as owners are more likely to talk about bad experiences than good ones. However, the devil can be found in the detail so look out for common, expensive problems and make sure the car you’re considering doesn’t have these issues. If it does have a problem, look it up on Google and see how bad it might be. Sometimes common problems have easy fixes but often these problems can keep the price low.

Get the car checked out – A few dollars spent on a mechanical check is a good investment. Remember, pre-purchase inspectors will always find faults as all used cars have them but don’t be put off by minor, easy to fix problems, just factor it in to what you’ll be prepared to pay.

With a little bit of leg work, research and careful checking you can easily get yourself behind the wheel of a reliable car without spending a fortune. As long as you budget for a few repairs and regular servicing you can get plenty of service out of your new car without breaking the bank.

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