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Car Buying Guide - Buying a Car on Finance

A practical guide to buying a car

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Purchasing a car is a big financial decision. It’s almost like buying a house; it’s the second largest financial decision you’ll make. For younger people, it can be the first important purchase you make and the first time you seek a loan. So, even though you’re excited about the fact of owning a car, it’s normal to feel a little intimidated by it as well.

The wide range of brands, models and choices of cars available in Australia makes it even more difficult for people to purchase a car.

There are some basic steps you can follow so that you can take control and be confident that you’ve bought the car that’s right for you. This booklet has been put together to help you through the different stages of buying a car and to make the whole process simple and straightforward.

Before you know it, you’ll be driving away in your own set of wheels!

Getting Started

With so many makes and models to choose from, and many different places to get your speculations, it can be difficult to narrow down the choices and define the car you really want and need. By asking yourself some key questions, you should be able to short-list a few cars and then you’ll be ready to start shopping around.

Why are you buying?

Think carefully about what purposes the car will serve and how many people will normally be in the car. Will you use it for your daily transportation to work with only one person in the car? Or will it be a family car for weekend’s trip? Will it grow with your needs?

You should also consider if you’ll use the car to tow a boat or trailer or if you need to fit large items in the boot, because that will help you choose the size of your car. Another factor to consider is how important it is for you to have a powerful car versus one that is more fuel efficient. That too will help you to narrow down your choices.

FACT: There are some restrictions on who may drive certain high-performance vehicles. The restrictions normally apply to new drivers and cover various high powered vehicles. Check with the licensing body in your State or Territory before you buy a car.

What can you afford?

Your budget will be a dominant factor in which car to buy. When you’re out looking at cars, it can be easy to get carried away. It’s important not to spend more than you’ve allocated because buying a car is just the start of your expenses – it will cost you to register it, insure it and maintain it; and these really adds up to your expenses.

On the other hand, there are good reasons to get the best car you can afford. You may be able to spend a little more by saving longer before you buy or negotiating a better deal. By spending a little more, you could benefit from a newer car with better safety features, more fuel efficiency and less problems or a better kept and maintained used car.

The purchase price is the largest, up-front cost associated with buying a car. But, when you work out how much you can afford, you also need to consider the other costs involved:

Stamp duty – State and Territory governments levy stamp duty on both new and used cars. While the amount and the way it is calculated vary, it is usually calculated as a percentage of the purchase price or the market value. For a new car, the stamp duty amount should be included in the ‘drive away’ quote you receive from the dealer.

Registration fees – It is a requirement that all cars in Australia are registered. If you are buying a new car, the dealer will organize for the car to be registered and include the registration fee in the ‘drive away’ price. If you are buying a car privately, check that the registration is still current. Beware of buying an unregistered car because there are extra safety checks and costs involved in getting it re-registered.

Keep in mind that car registration is a yearly cost, so you will need to save for it.

Transfer fees – If you are buying a used car, you will need to transfer the registration from the previous owner to your name. There is a fee involved for the transfer, and some States and Territories also may charge a late fee if you do not complete the transfer within the allotted time.

Insurance – You will need Compulsory Third Party (CTP) Insurance to get your car registered. This insurance provides cover against claims of compensation if you injure or kill someone in a car accident. But it doesn’t cover you for damage you do to another person’s property, including other cars.

In most States and Territories, CTP insurance is automatically included with your registration and provided by only one insurer. However, in New South Wales and Queensland, there are a number of companies who offer this type of insurance. It pays to shop around because the premium can vary significantly.

If you borrow money to pay for your car, then your lender will usually require you to comprehensively insure the car and have the lender listed on the policy. Comprehensive cover is also sensible to protect your asset. See page 24 for more information on comprehensive car insurance.

This checklist will help you to calculate the full purchase price of the car you are considering.

  • Purchase price...............................................................................................................................
  • Dealer delivery charge (new cars only)....................................................................................
  • Registration/transfer fee.................................................................................................................
  • Stamp duty......................................................................................................................................
  • Compulsory Third Party insurance..............................................................................................
  • Car insurance...................................................................................................................................
  • Other immediate expenses (e.g. new tires, urgent service)......................................
  • SUBTOTAL.......................................................................................................................................
  • Fewer trade-ins (dealer purchases only)........................................................................................
  • TOTAL _______________________________________________________________________

7 Finding the Right Car

Once you have decided why you are buying a car and what you can afford, the next step is to start thinking about finding the right car that fits your need.

New or used?

Driving a brand new, shiny car out of the showroom is a common dream. But in reality, many of us opt to buy a used car because it makes more financial sense.

There are some advantages to buying a new car:

  • Brand new cars come with a standard warranty ranging from 3-5 years. In cases when there are repairs needed to be done, the warranty will cover the expenses.
  • Nowadays, there are a lot of fuel efficient cars in the market, it is more reliable and safe than cars built a few years ago of the same models

The main downside of purchasing a new car is the fast depreciation of its value. Although, this is the not a problem if you don’t plan to change cars often or to sell it anytime soon as the price drops relatively fast, typically 30% or more of your purchase price.

Advantages to buying a used car include:

  • There are a lot of well maintained, slightly used cars for sale that can save you a lot of money.
  • You can benefit from the remaining manufacturer’s original warranty as long as the car you intend to purchase is still within the warranty period
  • Second hand vehicles that are no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranty must have a used car warranty if you purchase it from a dealer.

The main disadvantage on buying a used car is there might be some hidden defect, so it’s important to have it checked thoroughly.

FACT: Many State and Territories have a statutory cooling off period. This means, if you buy a car from a dealer and the dealer arranges finance, you can change your mind and cancel the contract within a limited time period, usually by the end of the next day. Check with your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading office about the cooling off period in your State or Territory.

Safety issues

Safety features, such as airbags and anti-skid braking systems, should be considered as part of your buying decision. You will need to think about how these features will affect the make and model of car you choose and whether you buy a new or used car.

  • Basically, newer cars are safer than older cars because of the new technology and tighter regulations set by government.
  • It is also generally considered correct that larger cars are less prone to accidents than smaller ones.
  • Although all cars sold in Australia must meet certain safety regulations, some makes put a greater emphasis on safety features.

TIP: Buying a car is not 100% logical. You should also like the car, and your likes aren’t always based on entirely practical considerations. But remember, you shouldn’t base your decision only on emotional factors either. If you do, you may end up with a car that doesn’t serve your needs or suit your lifestyle.

Consider the environment

Using a car to get from point A to B gives us flexibility and control. But, car emissions have always been an issue to global warming and environmental consequences.

Now that you’re about to purchase a vehicle, here are some environmental factors for you to keep in mind:

  • Hybrid vehicles (part electric, part petrol) and high-efficiency diesel cars are kinder on the environment than an ordinary petrol vehicle. Hybrid vehicles, in particular, lessen your emissions drastically and use less fuel than a standard car resulting in lower running costs. However, the upfront purchase may be higher than the standard model.
  • Increased drag can be caused by parts being attached to the exterior of your car, such as roof racks and spoilers. You may want to think about having these items and if they are really necessary for your needs.
  • Other standard features such as automatic transmission and air-conditioning also burn up extra fuel. You may want to consider whether you can do without these things. If not, get some tips on how to reduce their environmental effects.

10 Finance Options

There are multiple ways to fund the purchase of your new or pre –owned vehicle, these include:

Savings – by planning steadily for a period of time, you can gradually increase your savings so that you can buy a car outright.

Personal loan – you can get a personal loan to cover all or part of the cost. Regular payments are made for a specified period of time and at the end of the loan period you own the car. There is more information about lending money to buy a car in the next section.

Dealer finance – this is when you borrow money prepared by the car dealer, although it is usually an outside financial institution that provided this kind of service.

Leasing – an agreement where the financier buys the car of your choice and you make regular payments for a specified period of time. There are commonly two types of leases:

  • Operational leases are where you pay the lease payments same as rent. At the end of the lease there is no obligation or right to buy the car;
  • Financial leases are where you pay the lease payments and agree to pay a residual or balloon payment at the end of the lease. You also have a right to buy the car at the agreed remaining price.


Once you’ve decided on a car, and you know the expenses, you may not have the cash or savings to pay for it. One of the best ways to achieve your goal is to get a personal loan or a specific car loan.

The loan can either be secured or unsecured. ‘Secured’ simply means the car is mortgaged as security for repayment of the loan. If you fall behind in the repayments, the lender has the right to take possession and sell the car to recover their money. A secured loan is generally affordable than an unsecured loan.

It will be much easier to have your loan approved prior to looking for a car. This means you know exactly how much you have to spend and you can make a purchase when you wish.

Choosing a lender

There are several car loan options and many different lenders to choose from. With so many options, how will you know if they are the right lender for you? It’s important to do your research due to some lenders will make convincing promises, but the reality can be quite different.

Regardless of where you go, it’s important to evaluate the features of the loan and know what it’s going to cost in terms of interest rates and other fees and charges. Be clear with your goals and give thought to how much you can afford to borrow.

Ask some basic questions of your lender:

  • What loan my available options? (for example, secured and unsecured)
  • What are the fees and charges?
  • What will my repayments be?
  • Are there any loan conditions to be aware of?
  • FACT: The Case for Credit Unions & Building Societies

    Your local credit union or building society is a good place to start when looking for a car loan. Credit unions and mutual building societies offer similar products to other lenders, but they provide other important benefits too. With no external shareholders demanding dividends, credit unions and building societies can lend money on very logical terms with competitive rates and low or no account-keeping fees.

    TIP: If you are borrowing money to purchase a car, whether it’s a loan or a lease, it’s important to compare the product features and expenses (such as interest rate, application fee & early repayment options) before you choose a lender. When getting a loan, make sure you have the following documents at hand:

    What lenders want

    The keys to getting approval for a car loan are:

    Capacity – can you afford to repay the loan? Your repayments will be assessed against your earnings and your existing commitments will also be considered. Collateral – Do you own more than you owe? Your existing possessions (such as savings, investments and jewelry) and liabilities (money you already owe to others) will also be taken in to account.

    Credit – are you a good financial risk? Lenders will be interested in your record of repaying other loans and debts and will use this to classify whether you are likely to default on this loan. CHECKLIST – completing your loan application Proof of salary – recent pay slips, or your last 2 tax returns if you are self-employed Proof of other income – e.g. dividends Proof of any assets – e.g. investments, shares A fair estimate of your monthly living expenses Honest details of other debts – e.g. credit cards and store finance

    Your Credit Rating

    Prior to approving a loan, lenders will verify your credit rating. If you have a history of being late with repayments, your credit rating might be at stake. Information stays on your credit rating for at least 5 years, so it’s important to clean up your credit file before you apply for a loan.

    Confirm that your credit file is precise and up-to-date. If it’s not, you are free to have it corrected. If needed, repair your credit record by paying any outstanding debts.

    If your credit rating is in borderline, it’s best to be honest with your potential lender. Being honest about your current situation shows that you are responsible and have taken the necessary steps to correct the problem.

    TIP: In the event that you can no longer make your loan repayments due to unemployment or illness etc., Loan Protection insurance provides cover for you.

    Comparison Rate

    Calculating for the total cost of a loan has been complicated and difficult in the past. Aside form the principal loan amount, fees and finance charges must also be taken into account.

    Comparison rates were established to make it easier for consumers to compare loans from one lender to another. It already includes the interest rate or any fees for a particular loan and reduces it to a single percentage figure.

    All loans must be advertised using the comparison rate. Some loaning companies will advertise aninterest rate of 10.5% p.a. but the comparison rate is 13.6% p.a. when all the other charges and extra fees are added.

    A reminder when using comparison rates – not all organizations that lend money for car loans meet the terms entirely with the rules for comparison rates. Ascertain that you examine and only borrow money from a highly regarded lender.

    Where to Buy?

    Once you know what type of car you want and are aware of the cost, you’re ready to start shopping for it. If you’ve decided on a used car, there are four basic options when it comes to where to buy.

    Private Sale

    • You’ll be saving a big amount if buying from a direct person.

    Used Car Dealer

    • All licensed dealers are necessary to abide by a couple of standards and must offer guarantee of title and a used car warranty. Specific warranty conditions depend between the States and Territories, but a 3-month/5000km warranty is usual. In some circumstances, dealers are also obliged to provide a cooling off period in case you change your mind.
    • Another opportunity of buying from a licensed dealer is the ability to trade-in your existing car as part of the deal.
    • You may find it suitable to visit a dealership with a good selection of stock to choose from so you can really compare your options.
    • Dealers will also normally offer clean, well-presented cars for sale, so you’ll drive off in a shiny car, even if it’s not brand new.


    • A very favorable priced vehicle can sometimes be found in an auction

    Car Broker

    • Independent car brokers assist car buyers through the course of buying a car. You explain what you want and the broker will find a car to suit your needs and then negotiate the best price on your behalf.
    • The broker can also offer a trade-in for your existing car.

    Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, but using this information, you can decide on which option suits you best.


    • No warranty is issued for used cars sold privately, unless the car is still covered by the manufacturer’s new car warranty. So, its vital to get an expert to examine the car if you’re not mechanically minded.
    • Be sure to check that the car is not encumbered (meaning the car is carrying a debt), stolen or de-registered. If you don’t do this, the car can be repossessed because of the previous owner’s unpaid debts.
    • Buying a car privately can be inconvenient. You can’t compare cars side-by-side, you may have to travel long distances to inspect the car and private sellers can sometimes be unrealistic and reluctant sellers.
    • You will normally pay more for a car bought through a used car dealer, because all added benefits are included in the selling price of the car.
    • Car dealers can sometimes be persuasive salespeople, which may make you feel uncomfortable or influenced to buy a car that’s not quite right for your needs
    • Car auctions move very quickly, so you are required to make hasty decisions.
    • The auctioneer can be hard to understand and you might feel intimidated.
    • You may be competing against a used car dealer, keep in mind that they are familiar with the process and they will usually be quick to make the best purchases on auction day.
    • Cars are sold “as is”, which means you normally cannot test drive the car before you buy it, but you may be able to refer on a mechanical inspection.
    • The car broker normally charges a fee for the service, but this is normally only charged when a car is purchased.

    Important Steps in Buying a Car

    If you are buying a car for the first time, the whole process can be confusing. It might also be the first big purchase you make. In this section, we look at the different steps you go through along the way to ensure that you take control and drive away happy.

    Test driving a car before buying is an important first step in the buying process. You might have your heart set on the appearance of a particular model, but when test driving it you feel uncomfortable, then you may need to reconsider your choice.

    New cars – You will be driving a demonstration (or “demo”) model. The car you take home should be similar to the demo model, so check it for suitability and think how you feel driving it. Make sure that the demo model and the model you are going to buy are the same. If the demo has different features, transmission or engine size to the model you order, you could be disappointed.

    Used cars – The test drive process is even more important, because you also need to consider if the car is mechanically sound. It will help a lot to ask the existing owner some questions, such as “Why are you selling the car?”, “Has the car been in an accident?” and “Is the car normally kept in a garage?” The answers to these questions should indicate

    Whether the car has been well treated or if it has had a hard life. But always consider the condition of the car and the service records against what you are being told.

    In addition, you should inspect the car carefully –

    • Check the tires (bald tires mean an additional, immediate expense).
    • Check the body for dents and rust.
    • Check that the logbook shows regular and proper servicing and be wary of a car without a logbook.

    Here are some general test driving tips:

    • Bring another person with you, particularly someone who will be travelling in the car with you regularly. Get a comment and make sure the car suits everyone.
    • If you need to carry something specific in the car, such as a pram or sporting equipment, make sure it fits. The best way to do this is to bring it along with you to the test drive, but otherwise use a tape measure.
    • Don’t just drive around the block. Make sure you spend at least 15 minutes getting used to the car and try it in different road conditions and at different speeds.
    • Make sure you try parking the car. If it’s difficult to park in tight spots or doesn’t have good visibility, this may turn out to be an annoying and regular problem.
    • Ask about servicing the vehicle – how often and how much it typically costs – and get a quote to insure the car. These running costs vary between make and model, and could affect your final decision.

    Important checks & inspections

    There are some important checks and inspections that should be carried out on any used car you are seriously considering.

    Mechanical inspection – Unless you are mechanically experienced or have a friend who is, then it’s best to organize an inspection through your State or Territory Motoring Association. For a cheap price, they will complete a full mechanical inspection and issue a report. Some car dealers or auction houses may have a previous report completed on the car, and you just need to check that the report is current

    These reports are very thorough, which means that they’ll probably find a fault with every car. You just need to decide if the fault is major or minor, if it can be repaired and whether or not you’re still prepared to buy the car.

    Encumbered vehicle check – When purchasing a used car, make sure to check if the car is encumbered. This simply means checking if there is an unpaid debt on the vehicle so that the registered owner may not own the car outright. If you buy an encumbered car, the car could be repossessed even though the debt is not yours.

    You can check on any encumbrances, including whether the car has been reported stolen, has previously been written off or deregistered, by coordinating with the transport authority in your State or Territory. In order for them to complete the check, you will need to provide the registration number with the VIN/chassis and engine numbers. For a small fee, the authority will give you a certificate verifying your enquiry that gives you legal protection against repossession.


    Now that you’ve found the right car and undergone all the vital checks and inspections, it’s time to start negotiating. You can make a lower offer against the sellers stated price. Normally the seller will be willing to accept a lower price. Here are pointers to keep in mind when negotiating:

    • It’s best to be honest, friendly and firm. Stay positive and don’t be persuaded or hurried. If it doesn’t feel right, walk away.
    • Be straightforward when it comes to the price. If it’s beyond your budget or if they’re selling price is greater than what it’s supposed to be, the seller may be willing to negotiate the price if you explain these things.
    • Take a good look at the inspection report and be extra particular with reports showing repairs that you will need to pay for. Through this you should be able to negotiate a lower price.
    • If your request for a discount has been declined, leave contact details with your name. It really shows that you are truly interested and the seller might change his mind and accept a lower price.

    Doing the deal

    Once everything has been finalized, the dealer will ask you to sign an order form or a contract, try to read it thoroughly and make sure you understand everything about it before signing.

    Check the order form if it’s completed before signing it and that all the costs (including stamp duty, dealer charges, optional extras, etc.) are clearly stated. Make sure to have the delivery date specified otherwise it could take months for your new car to arrive.

    Leaving a deposit

    Typically, when purchasing a car regardless if it’s from a dealer or a private seller, you will be required to leave a deposit. Be careful when handing over the money and leave only the minimum amount required which should not be over 10%.

    Prior to leaving a deposit, overall car inspections and test drive shall be completed first. In cases when it is not possible to perform these and you want to secure the car, make sure that the deposit is refundable if you will not be satisfied with the inspections.

    Make sure to get a signed and dated receipt that outlines the agreement you’ve reached with the seller. Now that you’ve made a deposit, you are entitled to insist that the car is not driven.


    Payment of [add deposit amount] has been received as deposit on the purchase of [add car make, model and registration number] owned by [add seller’s name + address + phone number].

    It is agreed that [add your name] has first option to buy the vehicle at the full price of [add amount] including this deposit, subject to a satisfactory mechanical inspection and encumbrance check. [Add any other conditions you’ve agreed][Add date and signature of seller and purchaser]

    Taking delivery

    When your car is ready and you’re complete with your payment, you can take delivery of your car. Before you drive it home, be sure to inspect it thoroughly. If possible, you should do this during daylight hours in fine weather.

    For all cars:

    • Have your insurance organized before you drive the car. An insurance provider can issue a temporary cover note over the phone. This covers you for a period of time, usually up to 30 days, until you finalize and pay for the official policy.
    • Check that the seller gives you all keys, owner’s manual, logbook and any necessary security codes for the car.
    • • Check that the spare wheel and jack if all are in place.
    • For new cars:

    • Check the month and year of manufacture on the car match the paperwork, and are what you expected.
    • Check for any damage or defect in painting and trim and ensure that all the windows, lights, locks and other mechanisms are working properly.
    • For used cars:

    • Notify the transport authority in your State or Territory that you are the new owner of the car. You will need to complete the transfer papers.
    • If you relied on a cover note, finalize your insurance arrangements.

    Protecting Your Investment

    Once you’ve purchased a car, there are few things you should do to protect your investment.

    Insuring your car

    You’ve invested a large amount of money, time and effort in your new car, so it’s sensible to protect your car by insuring it. In addition to Comprehensive Third Party (CTP) insurance, which you need to have in order to register your car, there are other types of motor vehicle insurance that provide additional protection.

    Third Party Property – This is relatively inexpensive insurance as it only provides cover for damage that you do to another person’s vehicle or property. It does not include cover for any damage to your vehicle, which is a significant risk if you’ve just outlaid thousands of dollars for a car.

    Third Party Property, Fire & Theft – Provides the same cover as Third Party Property, plus additional cover if your vehicle is stolen or burnt.

    Comprehensive – This insurance provides the most complete cover for you and your vehicle, but is the most expensive of all the insurance options. It provides cover for damage caused to your vehicle and any damage you cause to other vehicles or property during an accident, even if the accident was your fault. Comprehensive insurance will also cover you against theft.

    Policy inclusions vary from one insurer to another, so it’s worthwhile to canvass because there can be big differences between the premiums.

    Driving a car without comprehensive car insurance is a great financial risk. If you don’t have comprehensive insurance and you are involved in an accident and your car is written off, your asset previously worth thousands could be worth zero.

    Maintaining your car

    To keep your car running in its best condition, have it serviced regularly. Don’t skip servicing to save money because it will almost certainly cost you more in the long run. Regular servicing will ensure small problems are fixed before they become major damage, and there’s also the issue of safety to consider. Regular servicing is also a record to show future potential buyers.

    The value of your car will also be maintained if take a good care of your car. Keeping it clean and tidy will help to maintain the paintwork and the quality of the interior. A little effort will pay off when the time comes to sell your car.

    Practical Guidance

    Your local credit union or building society can give you lots of practical advice when it comes to taking control and buying your own car.

    If you want to save money to buy a car, they can help you with budgeting and saving.

    Credit unions and building societies also have a range of loans; and can help you choose the right loan for your needs and ensure that your repayments are manageable.

    Having your car insured is very important; and your credit union or building society can arrange insurance for you. Through their network of insurance partners, most credit unions and building societies can organize Compulsory Third Party insurance, comprehensive insurance and consumer credit insurance.

    More information

    The following is a listing of organizations that can offer assistance and practical information when you buy a car.



    Contact REVS in New South Wales


    Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) 13 32 20 (select REVS from the option menu)


    Contact REVS in New South Wales


    Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) 13 13 04


    Vehicles Securities Register (VSR) 13 10 84


    Registration Status Service 1300 135 513


    Vehicles Securities Register (VSR) 13 11 71


    Register of Encumbered Vehicles (REVS) 1300 304 024


    These organizations are dedicated to helping motorists and offer services such as pre-purchase vehicle inspections, roadside assistance, maps and other information.


    Contact NRMA in New South Wales


    National Roads and Motorists’ Association (NRMA) 13 11 22


    Automobile Association of Northern Territory (AANT) (08) 8981 3837


    Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) 13 19 05


    Royal Automobile Association of South Australia (RAA) (08) 8202 4600


    Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania (RACT) 13 27 22


    Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) 13 72 28


    Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia (RAC) 13 17 03


    If you buy a car from a dealership that is a member of the Motor Trades Association of Australia (MTAA), the branch in your State or Territory may be able to advise and assist if you have any problems.


    If you have a problem with the car you’ve just bought, it’s best to first contact the your dealer. If you can’t get your problem resolved, contact the Consumer Affairs department in your State or Territory. (These departments are also known as Department of Fair Trading.)


    ACT Office of Fair Trading (02) 6207 0400


    NSW Office of Fair Trading 13 32 20


    Consumer and Business Affairs (08) 8999 1999


    Office of Fair Trading 13 13 04


    Office of Consumer and Business Affairs (08) 8204 9777


    Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading 1300 654 499


    Consumer Affairs Victoria 1300 558 181


    Department of Consumer and Employment Protection 1300 304 054


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