A case study about Sarah, who purchases a vehicle that had money owing on it from a private seller. Learn about the importance of searching the PPSR before buying a used car.
What a PPSR search tells you
A PPSR search tells you important things you need to know to help avoid the risks involved in buying a used car. This is especially important if you buy from a private seller and not a licensed car dealer.
When you do a PPSR search, it will tell you if the car you're about to buy has a security interest recorded against it.
A security interest means the car could have money owing on it and could be repossessed from you even though you've paid for it.
A PPSR search usually also includes information recorded against the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) or chassis number you are searching on, such as:
- make, model and colour
- written off status
- stolen status and
- if it is part of the faulty Takata airbag recall and has not been recorded as repaired*.
You’ll also get a search certificate which you can use as a legal record of your results.
Other types of vehicles you can search for
You can search for these other types of vehicles on the PPSR:
motorbikes and utes
buses, caravans, campervans and camper trailers
horse floats, trailers and boat trailers and
trucks, forklifts, tractors and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
See motor vehicle for the full definition of vehicles you can search for on the PPSR.
What a PPSR search costs
A search can be done two ways:
- online self-service: $2.00
- assisted phone service: $7.00.
You can pay using a credit card or debit card.
What you need to do a search
To do a PPSR search, you need:
- a credit or debit card
- the car’s serial number (VIN or chassis number).
You can't search the PPSR using the car's number plate or engine number.
Most cars built after 1989 will have a VIN which has 17 characters.
Most cars built before 1989 will have a chassis number.
You’ll normally find the VIN or chassis somewhere on the body of the car or:
- under the bonnet or in the engine bay
- at the bottom of the windscreen (inside)
- inside the door closure area on the driver’s side
- on the road registration papers.
VINs and chassis are a mix of numbers and letters.
In some cases, the car may have a manufacturer's number. You can search on its manufacturer's number using the Search by serial number PPSR search.
Manufacturer's numbers are often not unique and therefore searching on them alone may not protect you. You may also want to do a search on the grantor of the security interest.
When to search
You should do a PPSR search on the day or the day before you intend to buy a car - the closer you search to the time of purchase the better. This means you’ll get the most up-to-date information and you'll be further protecting yourself from the risk of repossession.
How a PPSR search protects you
Getting the most up-to-date information is important as it offers you increased protection against the car being repossessed. If you do your search the day you buy a car or the day before, and the search certificate shows that the car had no security interest registered, it can help protect you if someone claims an interest in the car at a later date.
If you buy a car from a licenced motor vehicle dealer you are generally protected from repossession, even if a security interest was registered against the car when you bought it. You may also be protected under the laws of your state or territory. Even though you are protected when buying from a dealer, you may want to do a PPSR search anyway.
For more information see How the PPSR protects buyers and lessees.
Examples of how a PPSR search protects you
Harry bought a car with cash from a private seller after seeing an ad online. Six months later, a bank contacted him and said they were coming to collect the car; the seller had never paid off their secured car loan.
Harry told the bank he'd done a PPSR search the day before buying the car and it came back clear of security interests and showed them his search certificate.
The bank then realised they'd registered their security interest in the car against the wrong VIN when they created their PPSR registration. The bank then apologised, removed their registration and Harry was able to keep the car.
Gretel bought a used car from a licenced motor vehicle dealer. Gretel didn't do a PPSR search because she trusted the dealer had made sure the car was debt free. Two months later, a finance company contacted Gretel threatening to repossess her car. The person who sold her car to the dealer had taken out a secured car loan with the finance company but hadn't paid it off.
The finance company explained to Gretel that when she'd bought the car there was a PPSR registration against the car's VIN showing their security interest. Because the car yard was a licenced motor vehicle dealer, Gretel was protected from having her car repossessed.
Other useful checks you could do
There are some other checks you can do to help protect yourself when buying a used car. Moneysmart also has a useful Buying a car guide that can help you.
Ask the roadside assistance or motor traders association in your state or territory to recommend a vehicle inspector.
Ask the inspector to check that:
- the car's serial number hasn’t been altered
- the records of odometer readings in the car’s service manual are correct and consistent and
- the car is in good condition.
Road registration check
Many state and territory road transport authorities offer online registration checks using the car's registration plate number. This can give you the car's registration expiry date as well as details of the vehicle's make and model.
Before buying the car, you can also ask the seller for a copy the road registration papers. This should tell you who the registered operator is and the registration plate number and VIN. You can then check if they match those details on the PPSR search certificate.
* Written off, stolen, make and model details are provided by state and territory road agencies and police. They do this via a database known as the National Exchange of Vehicle and Driver Information System (NEVDIS). If NEVDIS hasn't been updated or is offline, the data won’t appear on your search certificate. Stolen vehicle information is not available on NEVDIS for Tasmanian vehicles. If you are buying a car that is registered in Tasmania, you will need to conduct a search on the Transport Tasmania website.
Takata airbag recall information is provided by the ACCC. For more information visit Is My Airbag Safe.
Your PPSR search will show you if the vehicle you have searched is identified as part of the compulsory Takata recall.
PPSR case studies
A case study about Yosef, who purchases a used car that was a repairable write-off. Find out how important it is to search the PPSR before buying a used car.
A case study about Noah, who found a private car listed on the internet that he is interested in buying, which turns out to be stolen.