Getting a Car Down Under

The search for a used car is always daunting.

Waltzing into a car showroom and pointing a gnarled finger at a spanking new, fancy vehicle is not something my budget allows, so it’s back to the drawing board (hard research) before looking up private car sellers and dealers.

But as extensive as the public transport network is in Melbourne, getting around without a car can be frustrating, particularly if it involves too many changes and roundabout routes that take over an hour.

A browse through forums is a useful way to get started. Forums like reddit provide threads of conversations that can range from meaningful and thoughtful to downright silly. But it’s not unusual to uncover some gems of advice regarding how to choose and pick a car.

Many people have mechanic friends or even mobile mechanics (who operate out of a truck) that they might drag down to a test-drive session and that’s their surety. But for people who don’t know much about cars and don’t have such helpful friends, I’m guessing it’s back to the internet for that kind of education, even though it can’t quite trump having a good mechanic looking at it for you.

So to the dealer, or not?

  • Too many people say that dealers are slimy, slick-talking bastards who can’t be trusted, who promise you the moon and give you nothing when it all goes wrong.

Carsguide provides a good starting point for vehicle performance if you need help determining the make/model you want. Then look at the year of production. The engine capacity. Petrol or diesel. Mileage. Accident history. Finally, check if the price is commensurate with how much of a beating the car has taken. Narrow down your choices as you do your research.

  • Carsales is massive site that also provides this information and is the most extensive one I’ve come across so far, with a good mix of dealer cars and private seller vehicles.

Car Dealers

Dealers would offer ‘driveaway prices’, meaning – in theory at least – the price you see upfront is what you get. And supposedly, they handle the additional pesky paperwork for you when all you want is to take your new wheels out for a spin. But they could scrimp on everything else just to get a wider profit margin: Compulsory Third-Party Insurance, Stamp Duty, Luxury Car Tax, Registration (rather, the annual road tax you pay for it, for short) and how much of it’s really left when you finally purchase it.

Private Sellers

This is the way to go, according to the vociferous contributors, who insist that private sellers are better in every way. Less rubbish out of their arse, with slightly more honesty. If you’re a people-person, you’d like calling each and every seller and having a teeth-gritting conversation with them about the car they’re selling. You’ll at least get to know the human face and the story behind the vehicle, which is probably important to most folks.

Should it all work out, remember that you’ll be responsible for handling the paperwork that comes with it: the roadworthy certificate of the vehicle, transferring the ownership and paying the fee for it at Vicroads.

The Procedure

It took about an exhausting week and a half of calling, asking, inspecting and test-driving the make and model that I was looking for. Essentially, it was this: test-drive. Inspect. Be prepared to walk away. Repeat the cycle. Bargain and negotiate (if possible). How much you want to try to knock the initial price down is well, up to you and your ability to match or outdo the seller’s smooth-talking.

I found mine with Garry and Warren Smith Mazda in the end and paid a higher price for it because of the low mileage and how it ticked all the boxes that I had, so that was that.

This is a useful checklist to download and tick-off that will help you make a more informed decision. There’s quite a fair bit to look out for, but a mobile mechanic like this one may help you get some peace of mind.

In the meantime, it was about finding creative (though exhausting) ways of getting around, like utilising combination of free trams in the city and lots of walking.

Car-sharing

An alternative way to get around is a car-share option. It’s not Uber-share, but rather, it has to do with rental companies offering car rentals by the hour, with varying rental policies.

There’re several here, like GoGet, Flexicar, RACV car share (which doesn’t require a yearly membership). RACV worked best for me, and like most things these days, involve the heavy use of an app to get it all to function.

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