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10 Ways to Avoid Used Car Surprises

Canadians buy 3 million used cars every year, and a third of these are private sales (meaning they’re not purchased from a car dealer). Buying a used car can be stressful and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! You could be unsure about accident history, or worried about buying a car with money owing on it, but whichever concerns keep you up at night, this information can help you confidently navigate the process.

Here are 10 ways to avoid common mistakes when you’re buying a used car:

  1. Set your budget
  2. The first decision most people make before they start used car shopping is how much they’re willing to spend. Decide on a number and stick to it – don’t let aggressive sellers push you out of your financial comfort zone.

  3. Consider maintenance and insurance costs
  4. Different makes/models come with different costs associated, and this is something to think about before deciding on your next ride. On top of the purchase price, you’ll have to consider how the specific vehicle you buy will impact your insurance costs, fuel and maintenance budgets, and, depending on where you live, the amount of taxes you’ll need to pay on the purchase price.

  5. Decide which features you can/can’t live without
  6. Everyone has features they want in a used car, and everyone has features they need. Maybe the navigation package is a ‘nice-to-have’, but heated seats are non-negotiable (this is Canada – no blame there!). Don’t wake up a month down the road mourning a lack of sunroof. Make a list of the features you need ahead of time and make sure the vehicle has them before you buy.

  7. Get the damage history
  8. Accident history doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, but it’s something you need to know about before buying a used car. Damage history impacts a vehicle’s value, and if not fixed properly, it can impact its safety as well. One in three vehicles have been in an accident, so get peace of mind that you’re getting a safe car at a fair price with a Vehicle History Report from CARFAX Canada. Included with the report is a free History-Based Value report that uses the vehicle’s history, as well as other factors like location, to generate a unique value that is specific to that vehicle so you can have a better idea of the value of the vehicle you’re interested in.

  9. Avoid the repo man with a Canadian lien check
  10. Did you know over 40% of vehicles have a registered lien? Buying a vehicle with a lien could leave you responsible for the previous owner’s debt, and the vehicle could be repossessed. This is unique to Canada, so it’s especially important for Canadian used car buyers to search for liens in every province the vehicle’s been registered or had its registration renewed.

  11. Make the most of your test drive
  12. The test drive is your chance to get behind the wheel, see how things feel and make sure everything works properly. There are a lot of things to check out during the test drive, from an interior/exterior inspection, to feeling how the car handles on the road, to seeing if your kid’s hockey bag will fit in the trunk. Bring a list of things to remember and be sure you’ve ticked all the boxes!

  13. A pre-purchase inspection = clunker protection
  14. An inspection by a trusted mechanic will pinpoint any existing conditions and highlight issues that could arise in the future. If you have the history of the vehicle, the mechanic can investigate to make sure any previous damage has been properly repaired.

  15. Falling for common scams
  16. Research the most common scams and watch for hints of them. For example, a vehicle history report shows odometer history, and if you notice an irregular pattern here it could be a sign of a potential odometer rollback. Don’t take the seller’s word that the vehicle’s never been in an accident – you need third-party validation of that. Bottom line – if the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

  17. Check for unfixed recalls and keep your family safe
  18. One in six vehicles on Canadian roads have unfixed safety recalls, so check for them before you buy. Like damage, recalls don’t have to be a deal-breaker, but knowing about them is the first step to having them fixed.

  19. Get a fair price by doing your homework before negotiations
  20. Getting the vehicle’s history is key to helping you pay a fair price. Again, damage history doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, but it can be good leverage when negotiating price. Do some research on expert used car negotiating tips and walk into the negotiation confident and prepared.

For additional tips, tools and resources to guide you when making a used car purchase check out CARFAX Canada's Used Car Buying Guide.