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Do Not Buy a Used Car Without Doing These Three Things

We get it – shopping for a used car can seem daunting. Should you buy privately or go through a dealer? If you buy privately, how do you know the seller is being honest with you? What if the car has damage you can’t see? As Canada’s most trusted source of automotive information, the CARFAX Canada team is here to tell you about three things you should never skip when you’re buying a used car.

1. Get a vehicle history report

Every used vehicle is unique, and to understand whether it’s safe, reliable and the right car for you, it’s important to know about events that have happened in its past. Perhaps it’s only had one previous owner, or maybe it’s been rebuilt or damaged in a hail storm or flood? CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Reports (VHRs) can tell you all this and more, giving you important insight into the vehicle’s history and value.

Depending on which VHR you buy, you can also uncover the vehicle’s lien status – an extremely important piece of information when buying a used car. In legal terms, a car lien is an interest in the car that the owner grants to another party (such as a bank, financial institution, or other party), usually as security or collateral for a debt, until such debt has been discharged. In regular-person terms, that means that someone has borrowed money from a lender to pay for a used car. When you’re buying a used car at a dealership, they are responsible for clearing the lien before closing the deal, but if you’re buying from a private seller, it’s important to ensure the vehicle is lien-free before you buy it, otherwise you could end up responsible for the previous owner’s debt. If you are negotiating a used car purchase and discover a lien – it’s not the end of the world – you can learn about discharging liens here.

When you buy a VHR from CARFAX Canada, you now get a CARFAX Canada True Value™ free of charge. CARFAX Canada True Value is an online tool that helps you determine the value of a used car. If the seller is providing you a vehicle history report, ask them for the True Value to give you third-party validation that the price they’re asking is fair. While most used car value calculators tell you what your car is worth by comparing it with what similar year/make/models are advertised for on popular listing sites, it’s important to remember that the amount a vehicle is listed for is not often the same as the amount it usually sells for. As mentioned above, every used car is unique, as they’ve all travelled different roads, piloted by different drivers. CARFAX Canada True Value looks at how much similar vehicles have sold for in your area, and adjusts that value to account for events from the vehicle’s history, which could include things like damage history, odometer readings and where the vehicle has been registered.

2. Take a test drive

The second step to buying a used car that should never be skipped is the test drive. The test drive is your opportunity to get inside the car and see if it will meet your needs. Make sure everything is working properly and that you have space for your hockey bags, golf clubs or painting supplies. Just be organized and prepared before you meet with the seller – it’s easy to get overwhelmed with a test drive because there are so many things to remember. Here are some quick tips that will help:

  • Bring a friend – for safety, and an extra memory to rely on
  • Prioritize ahead of time – make a list of what you want in a used car, and what you really need
  • Plan your route – decide where you want to take the car to test it out
  • Don’t rush off the lot – take the time to do a proper interior/exterior inspection
  • Drive it like you mean it – make sure you test it out in real world conditions
  • Decide if you like how it feels – some like tight steering, some prefer sensitive brakes, and some don’t
  • Hit the brakes – test out its stopping power
  • Park it – make sure the dimensions are in line with you (and your parking skills)

Check out our free guide for more details on each of these steps, and extra tips for winter test drives.

3. Get a pre-purchase inspection

The third can’t-miss step to buying a used car is the pre-purchase inspection (PPI). This is your chance to have an independent person who is an expert in car repair and condition inspect the vehicle and verify its condition. PPIs are performed by licensed mechanics to determine a vehicle’s cosmetic, mechanical and safety condition. In a PPI, any existing conditions will be pointed out, and things that are likely to happen down the road will be highlighted. If you’re buying from a dealer, they will often perform the PPI for you right on-site, but if you’re buying privately you still have many options.

It’s helpful to bring your CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Report along for the inspection, to let the inspector know if the vehicle has damage history so they know which areas should be focused on. Showing them where to look will help them double-check that any previous damage has been well-repaired and will not impact the safety of the vehicle.

Click here for more information including where to get a PPI and how much you should expect to pay.