How to Avoid Used Car Buying Problems


Hi John,

I'm not sure if you can help us or not, but my husband and I recently purchased a car from Australian Fleet Sales on Christmas Eve and have had nothing but trouble since.

It's a long story, but I'll try and keep it as short as possible. Basically we traded a Holden Commodore 2006 with 93,000kms for a 2011 Kia Grand Carnival.

We agreeded to a $23k changeover. That was $5k for the Holden and $23k in cash for the Kia totalling $28k. This was above our budget as we didn't get as high a trade in value on the Holden as the manager made out that it had previous damage from an accident which I was not aware of.

Since taking the Kia home, it was brought to our attention that their was damages also on the Kia. I had it inspected by a panel beater and was quoted $7k to have it all repaired properly. I was so frustrated to discover this as the dealer reduced the trade in on the Holden for similar things.

I addressesd this with a manager from the head office of Fleet Sales and he agreed to do the repairs properly for us. Three days later I went to pick up the Kia and as I pulled up to park I noticed a 50cm scratch and dent down one side which was never there before I left it. I was so upset. Then only half of the other jobs were done that were promised. The customer relations person I dealt with advised that she would have it all fixed properly.

My car has been with them for a further two weeks now and I have been trying to contact the manager I dealt with who is now on an unexpected two weeks of leave. There is more that I have left out, but as I said this is the short version.

Can you please give us some advise as to what to do? We are ready to go to fair trading.

Kind Regards,



Hi Lauren,

I'm sorry you're in this position. Quite frustrating I'm sure.

This answer is in two parts. The first part is what you do now, and the next part is a salient lesson to others on how not to get in this position in the first place, and also for you next time you buy a new car.

You need to be polite but firm with this used car dealer. You're not going away. You expect it fixed as a priority. You want a no-nonsense timeframe, otherwise you will contact the media and consumer affairs. If that happens, you're going to want your $23k back. Simple. They need to ante-up and do what they said they would, which is fix the car. If they don't, you need to follow through.

If they are fobbing you off, and you look like going to Consumer Affairs, you need to have communications with them from now on in writing, plus notes about what was said in the lead-up to these repairs. E-mails need to follow phone calls as confirmation for reference later. If it comes to a Fair Trading dispute, you need the documents; you can't just say 'I've been calling and calling.' If it's not in writing, it's hard to prove it happened. Otherwise it'll be: 'You said' versus 'he said'...

I should also point out that it is reasonable for repairs to take two weeks, depending on complexity and availability of parts. Perhaps they are waiting on the supply of parts from overseas. It would be nice if they told you what was going on.

There's no question that you got ripped off on your trade-in. The cheapest Holden Commodore on sale in 2006 was the SVZ for $32,990. (This was the VZ model before the VE.) In average condition today with an expected 150,000-200,000km on the clock it trades in for $5300-$7000. Yours was a very low-kilometre car, so it should be at the top end of the range even in average nick. If the budget was tight, perhaps you should have sold it privately. It's worth $7700-$9400 as a private sale. Details here. Same sort of ballpark pricing for the VE Omega (cheapest VE from 2006). Details here.

To confirm or deny what the dealer told you about the trade-in car's purported previous crash damage, you could have easily taken your old car to a panelbeater of your own choosing to test the dealer's claim. Otherwise, how do you know he wasn't bullshitting you just to talk the trade-in down?

There is no way on earth you should buy a used car from a dealer or privately without doing your own inspections and checks on it. Take the car to your own mechanic and panelbeater and have them assess it. This would have prevented you wasting your time and money on this sub-standard car. You should also do the full $37 car history check at - just to be on the safe side. I also have a used car checklist to help you assess used cars you are considering buying. Remember this stuff for next time.

You effectively did what should have been the pre-purchase inspection after you bought the car... You NEVER buy the car and then take it to the panelbeater. You need to take it there first, then decide if you're going to buy it. If the panelbeater detects a problem, get a quote on fixing it. If you can't talk down the price by at least that much, don't buy it. Same talk-down process if your mechanic finds that the brakes are stuffed (or something).

The dealer's supplied roadworthy certificate is not worth the paper it's written on.

Lastly, why spend more than the budget? Be firm with the dealer. As in: "this is how much we can spend; take it or leave it". If he leaves it, walk away - there are a million used vehicles on offer. No one is unique. It's not that hard to find a good one. Dealers always try to coerce you into the one they've got by piling on the pressure of time for some purported reason. The truth is, you're a goose if this sucks you in. Take your time. Do the due diligence. Protect yourself.

Without wanting to be overly critical, Lauren, you're in this problematic position because you've gone about this all wrong. The dealer has seen you coming, he's touched you up on the trade-in and (possibly) also ripped you off on the price of the Kia. Certainly he's knowingly sold you a lemon in need of significant repairs, hoping he'd get away with it. Now he's probably hoping to do only half the repairs and get away with it.

Next time you buy a replacement used car, be a more effective advocate for your own self-interest. It's a buyer-beware world. Advocate for the highest possible trade-in (or walk to another dealer if you don't get it). Or sell privately for more money even if this is a bigger hassle. Do the proper checks before putting any money down - even a deposit. Don't agree to buy anything without all the checks all coming up totally rosy.

If you'd like to add to your story, please use the comments section below.

Good luck with the repairs Lauren. It will take some stress but I'm hopeful you can force the dealer to repair the car fully. The Grand Carnival is a good vehicle, ultimately, so I'm hopeful you'll be happy with it once you get over this speed hump.