Buying a Used Vehicle
With used vehicles, you could end up with great value or a great big headache. The condition and value of used vehicles varies considerably. To avoid buying a lemon, take the time to look at many used cars before making your choice. That way, you'll gain a good sense of what they are worth. With the information you find here, you can avoid making a decision you'll regret later.
What you need to know
Used Vehicle Buying Tips
When purchasing a used vehicle, you could end up paying a bundle for someone else's troubles, or you could become the satisfied owner of a sound car with thousands of trouble-free kilometers left on it.
To help minimize your chances of buying a 'lemon' or paying an unfair price, CAA has created this guideline filled with helpful tips to consider when purchasing a used vehicle.
Setting your budget
Buying a car is usually the biggest or second biggest purchase in your life. For some, the cash outlay may not be a problem. But for most it means borrowing money from a bank, credit union or other financial institution.
It's a good idea to shop around for the best interest rate before making your purchase. Decide how much you want to pay for the car, set a maximum and hold yourself to it.
If this is your first car purchase, you should also take into account the running costs. Keep in mind you have to live with your vehicle for a number of years. Long after the novelty of owning it has worn off, you will still have the payments, along with the repairs, maintenance and insurance.
Purchasing the car also has some built-in expenses. As well as sales tax, registration and insurance, these expenses may also include:
- Mechanical inspection fees
- Cost of additional equipment and accessories
- Extended warranties
- Paint and upholstery protection
- Dealer documentation fees
Choosing the right type of vehicle
To make your decision easier, ask yourself these questions:
- What type of driving will I be doing - city, highway, or both?
- How many passengers will the car seat?
- How much trunk or cargo space do I need?
- How would I rate the following in order of importance:
- Safety features
- Fuel consumption
Other items for possible consideration include:
- Quality of workmanship
- Ease of maintenance
- Availability of service and parts
- Horsepower and acceleration
- Reputation of the manufacturer
Choosing a vehicle you can afford
At bookstores and libraries, you'll find many automotive used car buyer guides. Likewise, Red Book retail values of used cars are also available from CAA South Central Ontario, Technical Services Department and your local library. With this information you should be able to build a list of cars within your price range that meet your needs. With this information, you're ready to shop around for the right one.
A word of caution: The condition and value of used cars vary considerably. You will probably have to look at quite a few to get a good appreciation of what they are worth. A hasty decision may be regretted later.
From where and from whom should you buy?
The majority of used cars in Canada are sold privately through individuals. When buying a car privately, you run the risk of falling victim of unscrupulous individuals who sell cars outside the law. If that's the case, you might find yourself with an unreliable and unsafe vehicle.
If you do buy a car from another individual, make sure the seller provides a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP). This package enables you to carefully check that there are no liens against the vehicle. If you buy the vehicle, make sure the seller gives you UVIP package because the Driver and Vehicle Licence Issuing Office will need it in order to register the vehicle.
The next most popular method of buying a used vehicle is through a licensed new and used car dealer. Car dealers are probably the best place to start your search for a used car. Their large selection enables you to test drive many different makes and models without wasting time.
Whether buying a car privately or through a dealer, before making the purchase you should make the sale subject to a mechanical inspection. The fee you invest at this point could well prevent you from making a costly mistake later. CAA offers a Vehicle Inspection Services at various locations across Southern Ontario. Rates are very competitive and special discounts are available to CAA Members.
Curbsiders sell vehicles from their homes, which often leads buyers to believe they are selling their own family vehicle. Buyers run the risk of buying a vehicle without full knowledge of its ownership or collision history.
Curbsiders buy used vehicles at low prices and sell them almost immediately at a profit. This is illegal. They are running a used vehicle business without a license.
Here are some clues that may help you identify curbsiders:
- The name on the vehicle registration is not the same as the seller's.
- Compare the issue date of the registration with the seller's story of how long they've owned the vehicle. If they don't fit, there may be a problem.
What to look for in a used vehicle
Keep in mind any used car is going to have minor flaws. What you want to avoid is a vehicle with major mechanical or body problems that will be costly to repair.
You can ask if the car has ever been in an accident. And, if so, how much damage was caused. If the seller is co-operative in answering your questions, chances are good he or she has nothing to hide.
If there are items on the car you feel need to be corrected, discuss them with the salesperson. If they are not out of proportion, the salesperson should have an opportunity to make corrections. In most cases, a business-minded dealership will make the car right for you.
The average odometer reading is about 20,000 km per year. Does the odometer reading correspond with the general condition? Here are some things to look for:
- Excessive wear on the pedal rubbers, seat upholstery and carpeting could indicate a great deal of mileage.
- Inspect the car body by scanning its side for dents, ripples or signs of repainting. These may indicate recent automotive body work.
- Check the body for rusting. The bottom of all doors, wheel openings and lower body panels are prime locations.
- Paint blisters or cracking can be signs of rusting under paint or worse - rust perforation from the other side of the panel.
- Check the tire tread for excessive wear. Four new tires would be an expensive start.
- Is there a spare wheel, jack and wheel wrench? Are they in good condition?
- Do the doors, trunk and hood close firmly?
- Try the door lock mechanism and window regulator to see if they work.
- Do the windows close completely?
- Check for damp carpets or a musty, damp smell inside the car, which could indicate a leak of some sort.
- Press down each corner of the vehicle. It should come to rest quickly. If it keeps bouncing, the shock absorbers probably need replacing.
- If the engine is cold, remove the radiator cap and check level and condition of coolant.
- Check engine side or radiator for signs of leakage or corrosion. Recheck for leaks after road test. Do not remove radiator cap when engine is warm.
- Has the car been getting maintenance? Take a look at the stickers on the door jamb to determine regularity of upkeep.
- Check the operation of all lights and also check for cracked or broken lenses.
If the car still looks promising, take it for a road test. A quiet, residential area, or an open space, are the best testing grounds. CAA recommends the following checks:
- Does the car start immediately and idle smoothly once warm?
- Are the engine gauges and warning lights operating? Check again while driving.
- Try all the accessories, buttons and switches.
- Try the park brake and see if the brake warning light comes on.
- On both smooth and rough surfaces, start and stop the car, drive forward and backward, make several turns in both directions. For most automobiles there should be no more than 10 mm (1/2 inch) play in the steering wheel.
- Listen for unusual noises.
- Make several sharp turns at low speed. The steering shouldn't stiffen up and bind. If there is power steering, no squeaks, moans or sudden increase of steering effort should occur.
- Either descend a long hill with your foot off the accelerator, or in a flat area, decelerate from 80 km/h to about 25 km/h without using the brake. Then step hard on the accelerator. If there is heavy blue exhaust smoke, the engine may need an overhaul.
- Try several emergency stops to check the brakes. They should feel firm, not spongy, and should not grab or swerve the car.
- Try the transmission in all gears. Manual transmissions should shift smoothly and not grind. Automatic transmissions that allow excessive engine speeds between gears may need major repairs.
Making the purchase
If you've selected the car you want, the inspection has confirmed there are no serious defects and the price is right, then the time has come to sign the papers. When purchasing a used vehicle through a dealer, you will have to sign a Conditional Sales Agreement. This is a legal and binding document that should state clearly all the conditions of the sale including:
- Full description of the vehicle
- Full purchase price
- Terms for payment
- Trade-in allowance if applicable
- Any warranty or guarantee agreed upon
- Repairs agreed upon by both parties
Read the agreement before you sign. Make sure all blank spaces are filled in or crossed out. Ask for a copy for yourself.
Make sure the Vehicle Identification Number on the vehicle matches the Vehicle Identification Number on the vehicle permit. If it does not match, the seller is obligated to call the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Call Centre:
Toronto area: 416-235-2999
Toll free: 1-800-387-3445 (Canada-Wide)
You should ask to see the seller's driver's license to ensure the name matches the one on the vehicle registration. Failure to do this now, could cost you the car at a later date. If you suspect the seller does not have the right to sell, do not buy. If you proceed with the purchase, make sure the seller completes the bill of sale form found in the UVIP package. Also get the seller to complete and sign the vehicle registration document.