Guide to buying a used car.

At some point most people will need to buy a used car and wether you are looking at spending 20,000 dollars or 3,000 thousand dollars the process should be relatively similar, these days you can actually get quite a good used car for around 3,000 thousand dollars. All prices and guide lines noted will be based upon living in Queensland, Australia and are from my experience as the owner and mechanic at Service Brakes Tyres Sunshine Coast.


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Probably one of the most important points is to purchase a vehicle that will suit your requirements, if you have no intention of going off road or driving the vehicle on the beach then a four whee drive or S.U.V would not be a good choice, as the size of the vehicle increases generally servicing costs including tyres and in some case registration will also be higher, and as car parks and residential streets get smaller parking a large vehicle will be a constant issue.

I have found over the years selling and repairing vehicles that a hatch back is the most versatile in regards to size, ease of parking and fuel efficiency, and if there is not enough room inside roof racks can be installed or of course the rear seats will fold down to make more space.

If you intend to tow, go off roading or drive on the beach then a four wheel drive will be an obvious choice, should you be looking for this type of vehicle a pre purchase inspection would be a great choice as often these type of vehicles have been driven in rough conditions, the 4WD system should alo be checked before purchasing. four wheel drive systems can be easily checked by selecting 4WD and driving a short distance to listen for abnormal noises etc.


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This may not be a thought when looking but should be very high on the list before purchasing a vehicle, very small cars are economical and easy to drive an park but can in some cases have compromised safety in a crash. features to look for when purchasing would be

1) Airbags (Should include passenger, curtain rail and side impact airbags)

2) Anti Lock Brakes

3) Crumple Zones

4) Traction Control

5) Stability control (Not all vehicles have this)

6) Lane monitering 

Safety ratings in Australia are easily found on the A.N.C.A.P page and 10 minutes on the internet could easily save your life, this is actually the first thing i would do before even looking at a vehicle, most modern cars post 2000 will have a rating , if the vehicle you like has a low rating regardless of price i would not even consider it.


Older vehicles that may get passed down from Grandparents etc may be well looked after and reliable but to be honest with the mass of larger vehicles on Queensland roads and the amount of Four Wheel Drive and S.U.V's we service at Service Brakes Tyres Sunshine Coast i personally feel an old pre 2000 vehicle with no Airbags or safety features would not be a very good vehicle in an accident and not a good choice for a first car.


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I personally like to buy vehicles privately because i can talk to the owners and get a feel for how the vehicle was looked after, if the people are very untidy and the house is the same then maybe the vehicle has not been well looked after, also this is a good opportunity to see if the vehicle has been garaged or left outside.

Buying privately will give you no warranty or ability for a refund if the vehicle has major issues after purchase and even getting an inspection may not show up future problems with the transmission etc, certain problems with engines, drive trains can cost thousands of dollars so choose wisely.

Servicing history of the vehicle is very important and the best way to find how a vehicle has been serviced is to view the service book, this is the service passport inside the log book and should have been stamped and filled out by the mechanics at the dealer or independent workshop normally every 10-15,000k.

A Pre Purchase Inspection may cost around $100.00 but could save you thousands and i highly recommend taking a vehicle to a mechanic before buying, if the owner does not want this to happen or is hesitant then walk away as there could be hidden problems.

Buying from a dealer will give you some piece of mind as a limited warranty will come with the vehicle and possibly the ability to purchase further independent warranty, i actually think this extended warranty is a good idea but there are of course a lot of conditions with a warranty and some research will tell you if the warranty being sold is right for you, I feel that if you are going to buy from a car yard a Dealer is the way to go, the price may be a bit higher but will likely be a better vehicle.


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This is where things can get difficult, mostly people will choose vehicles based on looks, practicality etc but may not have a preference of brand, i have found that European cars will generally have more features and arguably better styling than Japanese or American vehicles but servicing costs can be higher, Japanese cars have a reputation for reliability and lower servicing costs but certain European cars can be very good.

I will give my opinion based on what i have see, driven, owned and maintained over the years.

I personally would stay away from Citroen and Renault, i have found parts to be expensive and hard to get, I would also stay away from American made vehicles, again certain parts are hard to locate and they do not have the drive ability and reliability of other vehicles, cheap vehicles like Tata, Chery, Great Wall would in my opinion be a bad choice. 

My choice of small Hatchback vehicles would be-

1) Suzuki Swift-       

2) Toyota Yaris-      

3) Peugeot 206-      

4) Hyundai i30-       

5) Mazda 2-            

6) Honda Jazz-       





Most vehicles will that are a few years old will have certain issues that arise and will be quite common to that particular vehicle, once you have decided on one or a few type of cars, a Google search on Common mechanical problems will give you an idea of what could be expected to come up and how much it could cost to fix or you can ask the owner if they have had these issues and maybe have already been addressed.

Also an A.N.C.A.P check and a fuel economy check would be a good idea before viewing.

Basically by the time you are viewing the vehicle a lot of research should have been done and an inspection should not be rushed, the longer you look at a car the more marks, dents, scratches you will find, you should make sure everything works as it should but realize that if it is an older car there maybe certain things that don't work and this can be a negotiation point if you can find the problems. I personally mainly focus on the inside of the vehicle, so check all the seats slide and fold down (if applicable), the A/C works on all functions,all the windows work, the spare tyre and accessories are not missing and a good visual inspection.

On a test drive you would be listening for abnormal noises, making sure everything works okay, looking for a service sticker (normally will be top right inside windscreen) and you are happy with the dash layout etc.

Under the bonnet it is mainly a visual inspection and you should check the engine oil and coolant level and look for leaks, if you are getting a Pre purchase inspection your mechanic should be checking these things so may not be as important to look for yourself.

If you are buying privately then theses are the questions i would be asking.

1) How long have you owned the vehicle?, ( the longer the better normally)

2) What problems have you had with the vehicle?

3) Has it ever been in an accident?

4) Has it been serviced regularly?

5) Does everything work?

6) If you were going to keep the car what would you do to the car?

7) Do you know if there are any mechanical issues?

8) Why are you selling?

9) Does it have log books?

10) Has it been reliable for you?

11) Has the timing belt been replaced (if applicable) this can be an expensive job and should replaced at 100,000Kms on most vehicles (read our article on Timing Belts)

12) Do you have a spare key (it is much cheaper to have a second key cut and programmed from an already working key)


If you are happy with the car and are looking at a Pre purchase inspection, firstly and most importantly for a small fee an online check with the V.I.N number will check if there is any money owing or the history of damage etc, (if it has been written off and repaired) then if the Pre purchase inspection is okay then it is just a matter of negotiating a price.


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This is a difficult choice as they both have advantages and disadvantages, Diesel engines are generally more economical and mostly will be turbocharged so give very good performance, new modern petrol engines are also very economical and run clean. Diesel fuel is generally cheaper than petrol adding to the fuel economy savings.

Diesel vehicles do drive a little different than petrol engines but with a modern Diesel engine the difference is hardly noticeable to most drivers.

Diesel engines run what is called an E.G.R system which basically redirects the exhaust gasses back through the engine to make it a cleaner burning engine but this process does come with problems as the dirty air will over time coat and build up carbon deposits inside the inlet manifold and cylinder head, at some point this manifold will need to be removed and cleaned at expense. If you are looking at a Diesel with around 150,000Kms and the manifold has not been removed it will be likely somewhat blocked, the effects of this are loss of performance.

Servicing costs can be higher for a Diesel due to the type of engine oil used and more expensive Filters.

Diesel injectors and pumps can also fail at some point and with common rail diesel these injectors can be $4-600 each with an injector pump running into possibly thousands of dollars, unfortunately they can fail at any time and even a pre purchase inspection may not detect any faults, if budget were an issue i would personally stick with a petrol engine.

Petrol engines will require the replacement of spark plugs at some point with Diesel engines not requiring spark plugs this is an added cost but most modern petrol engines will have spark plug replacement intervals of up to 100,000Kms this is not a major issue but can cost a few hundred dollars to replace in some vehicles (mainly V6 engines).


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There are a few major components in vehicles that if they fail can cost several thousand dollars, i will list below some of the major failures that can break the bank and should have attention paid to them in a Pre purchase inspection.

1) Transmission

2) Engine

3) Electric Power Steering

4) A.B.S Units













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How much should brakes cost to fix?

Although there are many variables with brake repair and the cost can be different in other states we will for this article focus on the cost of brake repair on the Sunshine Coast, so let's look at the braking system first.

The brake master cylinder is pretty much where the braking starts so by applying pressure to the pedal through a rod this pressure transfers to a fluid filled master cylinder (brake fluid) which compresses a piston and forces fluid out of smaller holes then through pipes and hoses to feed the front or rear brakes.

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Attached to the master cylinder is a brake booster (actually it is positioned behind the master cylinder) and works to increase the the braking performance via engine vacuum, essentially as the brake is applied this booster does exactly that to the braking system, if you have ever tried to brake while the engine is not running you will realize how effective the booster is, not a particularly common part to fail but if you feel like extra effort is required on the brake pedal this could be the problem.

From here the compressed brake fluid will travel to either the front or rear brakes, most modern cars are now disc brakes front and rear but there are also drum brakes which where and in some cases still are fitted to the rear of vehicles.

Let us look into how a disc brake system works, again this the most common type of brake set up, fluid travels from the master cylinder through the lines and into the brake caliper, the compressed fluid then pushes on a piston that then clamps the brake pads to the rotor, the harder the brake pedal is pushed the more pressure is applied to the brake pads, the rotor is turning with the wheel so the pressure applied to the caliper then to the brake pad will slow the vehicle. The brake pads will generally wear out quicker than the rotor but modern European vehicles will wear the rotor just as quickly.

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Brake Caliper

The brake caliper essentially works the same way as most of the hydraulic components in the system by way of hydraulic pressure moving a piston and applying pressure to the brake rotor, calipers can leak and need to be overhauled, also the piston seal can become damaged as the piston is pushed back while replacing the brake pads so there can be a situation where as brake pads are being replaced the caliper can start leaking, this is an unfortunate situation and will increase the cost of pad replacement substantially. a brake caliper overhaul can cost between $200-400 and upwards.

Brake drums kind of work in a similar way but use shoes clamping a drum rather than pads clamping a rotor, the fluid comes in through a wheel cylinder as opposed to a caliper and pushes two small rods out to clamp the shoes to a moving brake drum, and again the more pressure applied the more braking will occur. wear will occur firstly on the softer brake shoe material and somewhat lesser on the brake drum. The wheel cylinders will also wear by leaking internally past the seals.

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A.B.S Units are maintenance free and are mostly quite reliable, they work by a pump that literally pushes the brake pedal back towards the drivers foot when a locked brake is detected and will keep the wheel moving without locking the brake, a problem with this unit will generally be undetected so a light will illuminate on the dash to warn the driver of a problem with the pump or unit, if the A.B.S light is displayed on the dash the unit will not work and should be taken to a workshop.

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Brake lines and hoses can also require replacing from time to time, we find often with vehicles that launch boats into salt water the rear brake pipe will corrode from outside in, this can be very dangerous as when the pipe completely corrodes out the brake fluid will leak out and compromise brake performance, rubber flexible hoses join the steel pipes at the caliper and these can split and break down over time.

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The costs of course can and will vary but in very general terms there are a few possibilities.

Brake pad replacement Sunshine Coast - The brake pads have worn out which means the brake material has worn down to a point where the pads need to be replaced, this is now a case of removing the wheel and the caliper and replacing the brake pads on both sides (brake are always replaced as a pair across the same axle) this could cost anywhere from $160.00 to $300.00 and upwards, the higher cost comes with later model vehicles, S.U.V and four wheel drives, also on some vehicles a brake pad sensor will need to replaced (this sensor illuminates a warning light on the dash and is a low brake pad warning light as pictured below)


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Brake rotor replacement or machining- Whenever the brake pads are replaced it is recommended that the brake rotors be machined or replaced, this will bring the rotor to a smooth even finish and help with the bedding in of the new brake pads, ( At Service Brakes Tyres we road test and bed the new brakes in), some indicators that your rotors require machining would be a pulsation or vibration through the steering wheel or the seats under braking that is worse when braking heavily or down a hill, to have this vibration present and not machine the rotors while changing the brake pads is false economy and not recommended, when the rotors become too thin to machine they will need to be replaced, the reason for this is the metal material wears away due to braking and the rotor can not dissipate enough heat, the cost of new rotors has in fact come down but can still cost between $70.00 to $300.00 and upwards.

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Rear brake shoe replacement.

The time brake shoes take to require replacing is a lot longer than brake pads so even though the coast can be higher it will be far less frequent, brake shoes take more time to replace than brake pads and the price of parts is equivalent to pads, generally you could expect to pay around $150.00-$250.00 to replace, the rear brake drums should also be machined or replaced and machining costs can be around $80.00

Brake fluid replacement (Flush).

This is generally the least expensive item to have replaced as the fluid is relatively inexpensive and the flush takes only about 30mns , brake fluid attracts moisture and contaminates and will build up over time, as the system is sealed the fluid requires replacing about every year but can be more often in humid climates or with a lot of heavy braking as the heat can boil the fluid, this job will generally cost between $60-90 and is a worthwhile investment to prevent costly overhauls if the fluid becomes to contaminated. There are many types of brake fluid with the most popular being DOT-3 or DOT-4  fluid, the correct fluid to be used should be stamped on top of the brake master cylinder cap or in the log book. At Service Brakes Tyres we use Valvoline brake fluid.


Quality of brake components.

Another variance in price comes with the price of parts used, there are cheaper options for brake components in some cases, some European and S.U.V there will be only a high end option available such as Bendix and Bremtech (Used by Service Brakes Tyres) but on most vehicles a cheaper option can save money but does come with some issues, cheaper brake pads can produce more dust, more noise, wear rotors quicker and not last as long as more expensive parts. We recommend a mid range option for most vehicles if budget is an issue, very cheap online brake pads would not be a good option for any vehicle.

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