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What to Look For When Buying a Used Car and How to Get the Best Deal

Shopping for a used car can seem overwhelming. How do you figure out used car value? How do you know what to look for when buying a used car? How do you know if you’re getting a good deal?

Most used car shoppers start their search online, with dealership websites or popular listing sites like autoTRADER and Kijiji. It’s helpful to set some personal guidelines before visiting these sites, like your maximum budget, what you need in a vehicle, and what you’d like to have.

You’ll also need to decide if you want to buy privately or trade in to a dealer. You can often get a better price on a used car buying it privately, but remember that dealerships do most of the work for you – which can save you a lot of time. Here is some more info on the pros and cons of buying privately.

A recent study identified the top attributes consumers look for in a used vehicle. They want to know a vehicle’s mileage, maintenance history, accident history, and if it’s in top condition. Ask yourself which of these factors are important to you.

What to look for when buying a used car

Once you’ve determined your budget and are searching online for the right car for you, have a look at the options available.

There are obvious things to look for; maybe you need a minivan to cart the kids around, or maybe you’re more of a hatchback type of person? Either way, this is just a starting point. Do you need heated seats (hey, it’s Canada, no judgement)? Is a sunroof a deal-breaker? Is AWD a necessity where you live?

It’s important to get the vehicle’s history before you become too invested in a particular car, as this can provide insight into its current condition.

How do I figure out the used car value?

The vehicle’s history is key to establishing how much it’s worth. Checking what similar cars are listed for is the natural place to start, but remember, the price cars are listed for and what they end up selling for are rarely the same. You can also get an idea of how much your year/make/model is worth by considering its book value.

Used car value is different for every car; even identical models will have completely different histories. That’s why it’s important to know the value range that you’re the car you’re interested in. The CARFAX Canada Value Range tool searches what similar vehicles have sold for in your area, and gives you an average price as well. Pairing this with a CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Report, you can use the information to build an accurate idea of how much the car you like is worth.

Negotiating your purchase – getting the best car value

So, you think you’ve found the right car for you; you’re happy with its history, you’re aware of its Value Range and you’re ready to make an offer. The way you negotiate your purchase will be different if you’re buying privately versus trading in to a dealer, so consider this before you start.

Here are more details to help you negotiate a used car purchase.

Used car shopping checklist – getting the best deal on a used car

  1. Figure out your budget
  2. Read consumer reviews of the year/make/models you’re considering
  3. Narrow it down to a few year/make/models
  4. Search the listing sites
  5. Get a free Value Range for the vehicles on your short list – see where they fall compared to the average
  6. Ask the seller for a CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Report and any service records they’ve kept
  7. Take the car for a test drive
  8. If the seller won’t provide the history report, order one at
  9. Negotiate the price of the vehicle based on unbiased, third-party information found in the vehicle history and value reports
  10. Learn the rules to finalizing a sale where you live
  11. Drive away happy and confident you got a great car at a fair price

Check out our free Used Car Buying Guide for everything you need to know about buying a used car.