How about a half price car?

Australians could get their cars for up to 50% less if they did their homework first, says the car buyers’ Dog & Lemon Guide .

Dog & Lemon Guide editor Clive Matthew-Wilson says that many car buyers end up paying far too much for their cars or buying lemons.

"Next to our homes, our cars are often our most expensive purchases, yet most car buyers have zero real information about the cars they want and the prices they should be paying. That's why I wrote The Dog & Lemon Guide."

Matthew-Wilson gives the following advice for anyone wanting a cheap car:

  • Buy the last version of an old model rather than the first of a new.
  • Buy privately rather than from dealers, but never buy a vehicle without a mechanical inspection.
  • If buying a current model, get a version that’s about 18 months old. That way the depreciation monster will have taken its biggest bite, but the vehicle should still have some factory warranty left.
  • Borrow from the bank rather than trying for expensive dealer finance.
  • Get a car that’s unpopular but reliable. Japanese cars are vastly more reliable than Australian or European models.
  • Take your time and do your homework. Sites like will give you the real prices that real cars are selling for.
  • Remember that it’s a buyer’s market. If the first seller won’t give you the price you want, the next one probably will.
  • Don’t be afraid to buy a car with a few minor scrapes or dents. These really lower the price of a car and mean that many dealers won’t want it. Provided the rest of the car is up to scratch, you’ll probably save a great deal by buying something with a few parking dents, and you won’t be so disappointed when your vehicle gets bumped at the supermarket.
  • Unless you travel long distances, don’t be obsessed with fuel economy: small cars tend to go for higher prices due to concerns about the future price of oil. However, large cars, like the basic Commodore and Falcon models, are available at bargain prices at present. If you’re not doing great distances, the overall cost of a large car – including fuel – may still be cheaper than the cost of a popular small car.
  • If you're looking at the most reliable Japanese cars, such as Toyota or Mazda, don't worry too much if the mileage is high.

"I would buy a Toyota that had done 300,000km provided the price was right and it had been regularly serviced,"says Matthew-Wilson.

However, he says he would avoid any high mileage vehicle, including a Toyota, if it hadn’t been regularly serviced.

  • When you go check out a car, take a mechanic, not a friend ‘who knows a bit about cars’. Mechanics can help highlight problems and help you drive the price down.
  • No matter how cheap it appears to be, never buy a car you haven’t seen. If you’re buying online and the car is in a different town, arrange to get a car check done by a local vehicle inspection service. If the seller won’t help arrange this inspection, don’t touch the vehicle.
  • Don’t touch European cars, no matter how cheap. They’re not cheap, they just seem that way. If the indicator is on the left hand side of the steering wheel, the vehicle was built in Europe.

Clive Matthew-Wilson is in Sydney this week for the release of the 2009 Dog & Lemon Guide in Australia.