5 Things to look for in a car history

Posted by Motorama in Buyer Advice

From the outside, a vehicle might seem to be in top condition, however behind its shiny exterior or underneath the hood, it might be hiding something from its past. When buying privately, it's therefore always a good plan to have it checked out by a 3rd party, like RACQ or even a safety check like we do at Motorama. They can perform a pre-purchase check to see if the vehicle is mechanically sound. There are also a few other things a mechanic doesn't look at, that can make your purchase a very expensive one in the long run if you neglect it.

Has it been in an accident?

When a car has been in an accident, you have to be extra cautious before purchasing. Not only is this not written anywhere on the car, the damage might be structural, yet invisible. If you find out that the car has been in an accident, you need to find out the extent of the damage. Did it drive away from the scene with just some cosmetic damage (dents or scrapes) like a fender-bender? Was it hail damaged and fully repaired? Then you don't have much to worry about. However, if it needed to be towed, you should definitely think twice. Major damage to a car can come back to haunt you years later, especially if the repair hasn't been done properly.

You should therefore always check underneath painted panels to find evidence of a prior accident. If so, who fixed it? Do the paint colours match and the panels properly fit? Poor attention to detail are tell tale signs of a dodgy job.

And then there is the possibility that the car has been written off. In that case, it shouldn't be on the road in the first place, but obviously you shouldn't be buying it to drive it around. The repair costs will exceed the present value and most insurers won't provide coverage, so that alone is enough reason to stay away from write-offs.

​Are there any outstanding recalls?

When a manufacturer is taking steps to contact customers to commence a replacement of a part of a vehicle, we call this a recall. This could be anything from failing brake lines, steering problems or faulty airbags, like the recent Takata airbag recall. Because every brand and every model is different, there usually isn't a general register for recalls. It's therefore a good idea to check the manufacturers website before purchasing to check if the model you're after has been affected in the past. Then you'll have to ask the seller for proof that this recall has been completed, or you'll have to sort this out yourself afterwards. 

Though recalls fixes are generally free as they are a fault from the manufacturer, having the repair done could cost you a lot of time and possibly having to leave your car at the repairer. It's therefore recommended you ask the seller to have the recall done before purchasing and you should ask yourself why this person wouldn't have had the recall done already, as it's usually a safety issue. This could tell you a lot about how the seller was treating the vehicle.

Does it have finance owning on it?

Nothing wrong with the car, hasn't been in an accident, no outstanding recalls – what else could be wrong? Well, even if the car itself is in perfect nick, the financial situation around it might not be. If the current owner got a loan on the car or is leasing it, there will be an outstanding amount associated with the vehicle. The new owner doesn't only get the car, but also this outstanding amount. It's therefore very important to find out if there is money owned on the car - luckily this is very easy to check with the Personal Property Security Register from the Australian Government. It costs you $2 ns ives you the peace of mind that if you buy the car, it won't have any finance baggage coming with it.

If there is money owning on the car, there is of course the option to make a deal with the seller to deduct this amount from the selling price or to make any other form of deal. Like with an outstanding recall, this could take you more time and effort than expected. It's always better to just own the car outright when purchasing a pre-owned vehicle privately.

​How does the service history looks?

The service history of a vehicle is pretty much the most important thing to look at before purchasing a used vehicle. A dent can be fixed, a broken part repaired, but a irregularly or non-serviced vehicle can give you headaches for years to come. Every car should be serviced according to the manufacturers specifications and the service book shows you exactly if this has been done on time.  It's even better if you can also get your hands on the invoices of the services, because this gives you a very clear overview of which other parts have been replaced, or have been skipped to save money. 

Of course, the service books also tell you where the vehicle has been serviced (specialised mechanic or local garage) and if all the records are up-to-date. If a service is due, you might be able to use this during the bargaining process, especially if it's a major service coming up.  Not every service is the same - as cars pass certain milestones in kilometres or age, different parts or systems need to be checked or replaced.   And remember to check any discrepancy in the odometer reading; this should match the services and current reading.

​What's the actual resale value?

Now a vehicle is worth as much as somebody is willing to pay for it.  Whilst you may not be shopping for an exotic sports car and only a standard family sedan, it's good to know what the market value is. You don't want to be paying too much for a car just because the owner happens to be a good salesmen. Do your research.​  There are plenty of online resources like carsales, autotrader, gumtree etc where you can get a feel for other similar aged makes and models for sale.  


With all the things that could be hiding in a cars history, it's a good idea to have it checked when buying privately. We therefore strongly recommend you obtain a car history check from a company like Carfacts. You will need to provide the vehicle’s registration number or Identity Number (VIN) or chassis number, and odometer reading.

The check will provide information about the vehicle such as paint colour, build date and identifying numbers that should be checked against the vehicle. Be very wary if the certificate details do not match the vehicle in every respect as this could indicate that the vehicle is stolen. Police can seize a stolen vehicle even years after the event and you will receive no compensation. The check will also show a flag if a vehicle was a repairable write off and this will stay with the car for its whole life.

If you are buying a used car from a dealer, they are required to take care of any outstanding recalls and guarantee clear title, which offers you financial protection.

Motorama have one of the largest selections of quality pre-owned cars for sale in Brisbane, including hybrids. We will have the right car for you at our dealer locations in Moorooka, Springwood and Hillcrest.

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