Guide to car buying: 7 things to know before buying a car

Hyundai Tuscon Highlander

RACV Staff

Posted July 19, 2023

There are a lot of factors to consider before making a vehicle purchase. Here are RACV’s top tips for buying a new or used car.

It may be your first car purchase, an upgrade to a work vehicle, a brand new EV, or changing over to a family car. Many of the factors you're looking at also come down to your own personal caveats – are you looking for something cheap and reliable, or do you want all the bells and whistles that come with the latest electric vehicle?

Either way, buying a car can be one of the biggest purchases you make, so you want to make sure you've covered all your bases, and can be confident and happy with your new vehicle - whether it's a medium SUV for suburban family duties or a hulking 4x4 ute for work and weekend adventures.

Here’s your checklist of things to think about before purchasing a car.

7 tips for buying a new or used car in Australia

Do your research

It doesn't matter if this is you first foray into the market or you've been driving for 50 years, if you're buying a car,  you want it to be reliable long term.

Look into the latest RACV car reviews, keeping a note on the car’s history of safety, fuel efficiency, reliability, and any major issues the make or model can experience.

Additionally, find out the average pricing for the type of vehicle you are after, so you understand how much it’s worth when making your purchase.

Make a checklist of needs

Consider what size and type of car suits your needs, and make a checklist for the attributes you will be looking for.

Do you need a 4WD if you never leave the city? Should you invest in a two-door sportscar if you are going to need a child's carseat?

If you are unsure, start to limit it by the features you need -  number of seats; whether you’re looking at a car powered by petrol, hybrid, or a battery-powered EV; the storage required, such as a ute for work purposes, and where and when the car will be used – just for work, or for towing a caravan around the country?

Include any additional features you require in your checklist, from Bluetooth to dashcams, a sunroof, reverse camera or touch screen.

Determine your car budget

Think about your financing and budget, and how realistic your expectations are for the car you are looking for. This may also help in your decision on whether to purchase a new or used vehicle. The used car may be more affordable, while the new may come with extra features or perks - including a long warranty. 

Remember that the total price is not just the car, but everything associated with the purchase and ongoing costs.

Consider all the fees and charges you may have to pay, including registration fees, TAC charges, number plate costs, government motor vehicle duty, dealer delivery charges (if required), a registration transfer fee (for used cars), luxury car tax (if applicable) and ongoing petrol / charging and likely servicing costs.

If you’re unsure, you can view the RACV guide to car running costs. Use it to work out vehicle operating costs, depreciation, cents per kilometre and more, from small light cars to larger commercial vehicles. 

There may also be discounts, rebates and incentives eligible with your purchase, like when buying an EV, that can help with reducing your purchase costs. 

You can also look into financing your vehicle with an RACV Car Loan^. 

Check the car safety rating

You and your loved ones will be using the vehicle often, so safety is paramount when searching for a car that you will all be in frequently.

Check the ANCAP safety-rating for the cars you are searching in your style and budget, which will give you valuable information about the safety of your potential new vehicle. 

Alongside the official report, get a feel for the vehicle and how safe you feel in it by taking it for a test drive.

For example, if it is an older vehicle, how does it drive? Are you happy driving a car that's less connected to your devices, or one doesn't have a reversing camera? Do you feel comfortable driving with the blind spots in a soft top convertible, or higher above ground in a small compact SUV?

At the end of the day, it’s your car, so make sure that you feel safe, comfortable, and confident behind the wheel.

interior tech in car

Add in any requirements you may have, such as power steering, Bluetooth and cruise control. Image: Supplied. 

Get the car history

If you’re purchasing a used a car, be extra vigilant with your car history checks to ascertain the car’s ownership and registration history.

In Victoria, you can use the VicRoads registration check to flag any disputes or sanctions associated with the vehicle.

If you're going second hand, look at how the market is going for used cars, and consider taking some extra precautions when inspecting. 

You can also consider having a used car independently checked with RACV vehicle inspections to asess whether the car has any major damage, or is likely to need major repairs in the near future.

Find out the fuel or charging costs

A large cost of a vehicle is keeping it running. Whether that’s for a petrol, hybrid, or a battery-charged electric vehicle, get a gauge on the car’s fuel consumption or energy efficiency, if there are any fuel-saving features like a start-stop system, and the type of petrol or EV charging plugs required.

RACV Members can also save on petrol here, and use arevo to find the cheapest fuel. 

Look into car insurance

Some brand new or novated lease vehicles may come with an insurance package.

If not, you may wish to look into the range of car insurance options* that best suit your needs, and whether you want Emergency Roadside Assistance to get help for situations like a flat tyre or accidentally locking your keys in the car, providing assistance when you need it most. 


In the market for a new car?
Get a quote for an RACV Car Loan today →

^R.A.C.V. Finance Limited ABN 82 004 292 291 Australian Credit Licence No. 391488. RACV Finance is subject to RACV lending criteria. Conditions, fees and charges apply.

*The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions, please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.