Skip to main content

Buying a used vehicle.

Around a quarter of all vehicles stolen in Australia are never recovered and with a large number of these vehicles (or parts stripped from them) given new identifiers and placed back on the market to be sold to unsuspecting buyers. While it may seem unfair, if you buy a car from a private buyer which is later found to be stolen, you may lose both the vehicle and the money you paid for it. This can also be the case if you purchase a car which is still under finance. Minimise the danger of buying a stolen vehicle by following these tips.

When buying a used car

To be completely safe, buy through a licensed dealer. If you decide to buy from a private seller be sure to check the status of the vehicle on the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR). A PPSR check will confirm:
  • that basic vehicle description information (e.g. make, model, colour, jurisdiction of registration, expiry date, etc.) is consistent with the national register.
  • whether any party, such as a bank or other lender, has a recorded financial interest in the vehicle;
  • whether the vehicle is recorded as stolen; and
  • whether the vehicle has ever been declared a total loss (i.e. write-off) result of damage induced by a collision, fire, water inundation, other weather event, malicious action, dismantling or stripping.

    A written-off vehicle is one that has been assessed as being too expensive to repair, or too damaged for safe repair.
This is a very critical piece of information because criminals may use the identity of a written-off vehicle to disguise the true identity of a stolen vehicle or rebuild a written-off vehicle with stolen parts. A statutory write-off means that the vehicle has been damaged beyond safe repair and by law cannot be re-registered. A repairable write-off can be repaired and re-registered, but the vehicle will require a physical identity and special safety inspection by the registration authority. Inspection fees may vary between jurisdictions but can cost in excess of $600.

To conduct a PPSR check go to A check costs $2.00. No information will be confirmed by telephone.

When buying privately

If you decide to buy privately, minimise the risk by following these few simple steps.

Be realistic! Beware of vehicles that are significantly under-priced for their make, model, age, and condition. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Check the vehicle’s identifiers for signs of tampering. Identifiers are usually found on the firewall at the back of the engine compartment. Any evidence of grind marks, scratching or over-stamping on the vehicle’s engine number, chassis number, vehicle identification number (VIN) or compliance plate should be treated with extreme caution.

Cross-check the vehicle’s identifiers against those on the registration certificate. The registration number, engine number, VIN or chassis number should always match.

Ask for evidence of the vehicle’s history. Ask the seller for their proof of purchase; check the vehicle’s odometer reading against the service manual and look for authentic receipts for major servicing.

Make sure that the person selling the vehicle is the owner Ask the seller for photo identification and check the details against those on the registration certificate.

Consider a professional inspection. If you are having the vehicle inspected by your state automotive club or motor trade association, ask them to check for evidence of tampering with the vehicle’s identifiers.

Get a detailed receipt. If you decide to buy a vehicle, ask the seller for a receipt that includes the date of sale, your name, the amount you paid, the VIN or chassis number and the seller’s name, address, licence number and signature.

Trust your instinct. If something just does not seem right about the deal, don’t buy it.