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Questions to Ask Before You Buy Your Next Used Car

Purchasing a used vehicle can at first seem like an intimidating experience, but if you know the right questions to ask and have the right information at your disposal, you can navigate the process easily and with confidence.

The good news is that there are plenty of resources to help you learn about the history of a vehicle. In addition to a CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Report, a test drive and a pre-purchase inspection by a licensed mechanic, the seller of the vehicle can also shed light on any information about the vehicle that might be helpful to your decision making process.

Here’s a list of questions you should ask the car’s seller before you commit to buying:

Why are you selling the car? (Private seller)

The seller could answer this question in a few ways. They might be ready for an upgrade or perhaps the car’s size doesn’t suit their lifestyle anymore. It’s good to know the reasons behind this change because you might run into the same issues down the line.

How long have you owned the car?

If they recently purchased the vehicle and they are already selling it, take note as this could mean they ran into problems with car.

Who did you buy the vehicle from?

By asking this question, you should be able to get more details about how the car was driven, who the previous owners were and what’s happened over the lifespan of the car.

Where did you purchase the vehicle from?

This question will tell you whether the car was purchased from a dealership or another private seller, and if the car was purchased in a different province or country. Your CARFAX Canada report will also give you these registration details from across North America.

What’s the condition of the car?

Obviously you’ll want to inspect the car yourself, but take note of what the seller says. This is the seller’s chance to disclose any issues they’ve had in the past, any current problems or flaws in the appearance.

Can you describe the vehicle’s appearance? (Private seller)

If you’re searching through the classified ads for used cars, then you can save a lot of time by calling the seller and asking the important questions first over the phone. During the conversation, something could come up that will turn you off and this will save both your time and the seller’s time. You can also use the information you received over the phone and compare it to what you find out if you do decide to see the car in person.

How much mileage is on the car?

This is a chance to double check that the mileage quoted matches the car’s odometer. Can I see the VIN number, the vehicle ownership and your identification? You want to see this information to confirm that the seller is in fact the legal owner and to double check that the registration information matches with the car’s VIN number. Check your CARFAX Canada report as well to be sure the VIN and vehicle details in the report match up with the vehicle you see in front of you.

Do you have a Used Vehicle Information Package? (For purchases in Ontario)

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation requires that every privately sold vehicle (there are certain exceptions in regards to family, please visit the Ontario Ministry of Transportation website for more information) be accompanied with a Used Vehicle Information Package. This contains information about the vehicle as well as details and paperwork to finalize the sale.

While this is only an Ontario requirement, it’s always best to check with your provincial licensing office to see what’s required when buying a used car. Some provinces may require a safety inspection or emissions testing which either you or the seller will need to do before registering the vehicle.

Did the car have regular oil changes?

If maintenance or service records or receipts are available, ask to see them. These might not always be available (some owners may take care of the routine maintenance themselves), but if they are, they’ll give you a good indication of how well the previous owner took care of the car.

Has the car been in any accidents?

This is a chance for the seller to let you know about any incidents the car has been in, whether it be a minor fender bender or a major incident. Ask them to tell you where on the vehicle the damage occurred and what repair work was done. Review the CARFAX Canada report to ask about any critical accident data noted in the report.

Do you have a CARFAX Canada report?

The CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Report provides relevant and important information about the history of the vehicle, including accident information, information about liens registered against the vehicle in certain provinces and/or territories in Canada depending on the report you purchase, and U.S. history. If the seller has already purchased a CARFAX Canada report, then ask to see it so you can get details on the vehicle’s history. If they don’t have one available, get the VIN of the vehicle so you can purchase a report yourself. The report also comes with a free History-Based Value report that incorporates the history information as well as other factors like location to generate a unique value that can be helpful with negotiating the price.

Has anything on the car ever been replaced or updated?

New or recent updates could increase the value of the vehicle. From your perspective, these will also let you know how much money you can expect to invest in the vehicle down the line – if the car just had new tires put on, then you know that’s something you won’t need to do right away. Ask to see any receipts they might have to verify the updates.

Are there any mechanical problems I need to know about?

Research the model ahead of time and bring up any concerns you found to see if you’ll run into the same problems. Ask the seller if there are any current mechanical problems that will cost you money to fix once you’ve made the purchase.

What service has the dealership performed on the car since acquiring it? (Dealership)

This question will let you know what type of work has been done on the car, if any, since the previous owner.

How long of a test drive can I take?

Aim to spend up to 30 minutes on a test drive. You need time to evaluate how well the car runs and whether the car suits your lifestyle. If a private seller hesitates, invite them along for the ride. They’ll appreciate the chance to keep a watchful eye on their vehicle.

Can I take the car for an independent inspection?

It’s important that you take the car to a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection so you can get an expert’s opinion on what’s happening with the car under the hood. If the seller hesitates then this could be a red flag that there’s something they don’t want you to know.

Do you take trade-ins? (Dealership)

Before you fully commit or get your heart set on a particular model, find out how much money the car will cost, once all the fees and taxes are included. If the price is higher than your budget, you might be able to offset a portion of the expenses with a trade-in.

Can we fix this problem before purchase?

If during your vehicle inspection, or through your mechanic’s inspection, you discover a flaw that can be fixed, see if it’s possible to get this done before you purchase the vehicle. Negotiate a deal with the seller that works for both parties.

By asking the seller these questions, you’ll gain insight into what’s happened over the lifetime of your next potential car and what type of investment you’ll have to make in the years to come. Arming yourself with this information will help you make a confident and informed decision about whether the car you’re looking at is the right one for you.