Car Deal Canada

How To Buy a Used Car Via Private Sale

How To Buy a Used Car Via Private Sale

Buying a used car can be a stressful and risky endeavor. With no warranty or dealer support, purchasing a pre-owned vehicle from an individual requires more diligence on your part. However, you can score an amazing deal and end up with a quality used car by following the right process.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through all the steps to successfully buy a used vehicle from a private seller in Canada. We’ll cover how to research listings, inspect the car thoroughly, verify ownership, negotiate a fair price, complete the paperwork, and register your new ride. Follow these tips and you’ll drive away satisfied with your private party used car purchase.

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Determine Your Needs

Before starting your search, take some time to determine your budget and must-have features for your used car purchase. Setting a firm maximum budget based on monthly payments you can afford will help narrow your options. Make a list of any features that are essential, such as seating capacity, cargo space, fuel efficiency, etc. Consider the make and model years that are most likely to fit your budget and needs.

Research insurance costs, fuel economy, repair records, and other ownership costs for desired models. Determine if you require financing or can pay cash. Having a clear idea of your needs and budget will make finding the right used car much easier.


Search Listings

There are a few key places to search for private sale listings when looking to buy a used car in Canada:


Online Marketplaces

Websites like Kijiji, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace allow private sellers to easily list their vehicles for sale. These sites make it simple to search locally by make, model, year, price and other filters. Online listings often include plenty of photos and details on the vehicle’s condition.


Local Classifieds

Check your local newspaper’s classified ads section. Local sellers will often list in the printed classifieds to reach buyers who don’t browse online listings. The ads are typically shorter, but provide key details and a phone number to learn more.


Dealership Trade-Ins

Many dealerships will sell select trade-ins “as-is” without certification or warranty. Search dealership websites and visit lots to find these vehicles priced below retail. They offer a middle ground between private sale and certified pre-owned.


Research Prospects

Once you’ve narrowed down some potential vehicles, it’s time to dig into research on each model. Look up professional reviews from sources like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power to get an unbiased assessment. Pay attention to any pros and cons mentioned for factors like ride quality, technology, cargo space, and safety ratings.

Reliability data is crucial when buying used. Check resources like TrueDelta to see repair records and frequency for the specific make and model. Some vehicles may be prone to certain issues like transmission problems or electrical gremlins. You want to avoid models with a reputation for expensive repairs.

Get a sense of ownership costs beyond just the purchase price. Look at fuel economy ratings to estimate annual gas costs. See what regular maintenance items are recommended and when, like timing belt replacement. Understand the insurance rates for each vehicle. Additional factors like resale value and warranty coverage could sway your decision as well.


Contact the Seller

Once you’ve narrowed down some options, it’s time to reach out to the sellers. Initial contact is usually done over the phone, email or text. Start by introducing yourself and mentioning the specific vehicle you’re interested in.

Ask if the car is still available and arrange a time to see it in person. This is your chance to get more details and assess if it’s worth pursuing further. Some key questions to ask the seller include:


  • How long have you owned the vehicle?
  • What condition is it in?
  • Has it been in any accidents?
  • Why are you selling it?


Don’t be afraid to dig for information here. The more details they can provide, the better sense you’ll get of the vehicle’s history and condition.

If the responses are satisfactory, go ahead and arrange a test drive. Have the seller provide the VIN number so you can run a vehicle history report beforehand. Also verify ownership by requesting a copy of the title or registration.

Agree on a convenient public location for the test drive. Never go to the seller’s home address for a first meeting. Bring along a friend or family member too if possible, for safety and a second opinion.


Inspect Thoroughly

A test drive is essential to get a feel for how the vehicle handles and performs. Take it on the highway, in stop-and-go traffic, up hills, and over bumpy roads. Pay attention to any odd noises, vibrations, or smells. Test all accessories like radio, heat, A/C, and power windows.

Give the car a thorough visual inspection inside and out. Bring along a checklist to make sure you cover all the bases:


  • Check tires for wear and age cracks
  • Look for rust, dents, scratches, mismatched paint
  • Inspect shocks and struts
  • Ensure no leaks under the car
  • Check all lights, signals, hazards
  • Test brake pedal feel and parking brake
  • Check fluid levels and condition
  • Ensure no warning lights on the dash
  • Look for stains, damage, wear inside
  • Make sure electronic features work
  • Check under seats and carpets for dampness
  • Confirm VIN plates match paperwork


Focus your inspection on potential problem areas for that particular make and model. Taking the time to thoroughly inspect the vehicle yourself can reveal issues that may affect your decision or negotiating power.


Get an Inspection

Getting a pre-purchase inspection by an independent mechanic is highly recommended when buying a used vehicle from a private seller. This will provide an impartial, expert assessment of the car’s overall condition and help identify any issues the owner may not have disclosed or even been aware of.

A thorough inspection typically takes 1-2 hours and costs $100-$200 on average. While this is an added expense, it can potentially save you thousands by avoiding a problematic vehicle or one needing major repairs. The peace of mind an inspection provides is well worth the investment.

When getting a pre-purchase inspection, make sure to take the vehicle to an ASE certified mechanic you trust, not the seller’s preferred shop. Inform the mechanic this is for a private sale purchase so they know to scrutinize everything diligently.

Areas the mechanic will examine include:


  • Engine compression, leaks, noises, oil condition, belts/hoses
  • Transmission, differential, drivetrain operation
  • Brakes, rotors, calipers, hoses, parking brake
  • Suspension components, struts, shocks, ball joints
  • Electrical system, battery, alternator, lights, horn
  • Check engine light trouble codes
  • HVAC operation, temperature readings
  • Tires for wear, pressure, alignment


The mechanic will test drive the vehicle and may put it up on a lift for the inspection. You’ll receive a detailed report on the car’s condition, with any recommended repairs or concerns called out.

While not foolproof, a pre-purchase inspection goes a long way to avoiding buying someone else’s problems. It provides key information to negotiate a fair price or walk away from a potentially bad vehicle.


Verify History

One of the most important steps when buying a used vehicle from a private seller is to verify the vehicle’s history. This will help uncover any issues or problems with the car that the seller may not disclose.

The best way to verify a used vehicle’s history is to purchase a CARFAX vehicle history report. This will provide a comprehensive overview of the car’s background using information from multiple sources. Key details provided in a CARFAX report include:


  • Number of previous owners
  • Accident and damage history
  • Odometer readings
  • Maintenance and repair records
  • Recall information
  • Registration history
  • Vehicle use – personal, rental, etc.


While CARFAX is the most well-known, there are other vehicle history report services in Canada like CarProof. Spending $20-50 on a report is worthwhile protection when spending thousands on a used car.

You’ll also want to conduct a lien search on the vehicle. This verifies there are no outstanding loans or leases on the vehicle that could complicate the purchase. Provincial registries can provide lien searches for a small fee. Alternatively, services like CarProof will include lien data in their reports.

While not foolproof, taking these steps to verify the history and ownership status of a used private sale vehicle provides valuable peace of mind.


Confirm Ownership

Confirming ownership is a critical step when buying a used vehicle from a private seller. You’ll want to thoroughly review the title to ensure it matches the seller’s name and location. The title proves legal ownership of the vehicle, so it must be signed over to you properly during the sale.

Specifically, you’ll want to check that:


  • The name on the title matches the seller’s identification.
  • The vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title matches the VIN on the vehicle.
  • There are no liens or loans listed for the vehicle.
  • The title is the most up-to-date version and not a duplicate copy.
  • The title is signed and dated by the seller.


You can also run a vehicle history report using the VIN to check for any title issues, liens, or outstanding loans. This will alert you to any problems that could prevent a clean transfer of ownership. Be wary of potential fraud if the seller does not have the title or provides an invalid title.

In addition to reviewing the title, search provincial registries to verify the seller’s name is on record as the registered owner. This ensures no one else could claim ownership. Also ask the seller to provide a recent registration document as further proof.

Taking the time upfront to carefully confirm ownership will prevent major headaches down the road. Don’t complete the sale until you’ve verified a clear title without liens that can be legally transferred to your name.


Negotiate Price

Once you’ve inspected the vehicle and are satisfied with its condition, it’s time to negotiate a fair price. There are several factors that determine an appropriate price for a used vehicle:


  • Make, model, year, mileage – Compare pricing guides like Canadian Black Book for averages
  • Overall condition – Well-maintained is worth more, damage decreases value
  • Maintenance records – Proof of regular service raises resale value
  • Options and upgrades – Assess value of any extra features
  • Location – Pricing varies across different regions


When negotiating, start lower than asking price, but be reasonable. Point out any flaws uncovered during inspection to ask for a lower price. Be prepared to walk away if you can’t agree on a fair number.

Some tips for getting the best deal:


  • Get pre-approved financing so you can negotiate from a position of strength
  • Mention other vehicles you’re considering to add pressure
  • Point out reconditioning or repairs needed to justify a lower offer
  • Make the deal contingent on safety certification for extra negotiation power
  • Offer to pay in cash to potentially knock off a few hundred dollars
  • Be polite but firm and don’t immediately accept a counteroffer


Complete Payment Securely

When it comes time to pay for the used vehicle, it’s important to choose a secure payment method to protect yourself as a buyer.

Using a personal check or cash comes with risks – the payment could bounce or get lost or stolen. For a major purchase like a car, it’s best to use a traceable, guaranteed form of payment.

A certified cheque or bank draft drawn on a Canadian financial institution provides the most security. You can obtain one from your bank by providing the name of the recipient, and the funds are guaranteed by the bank once issued. This gives both parties assurance the payment will clear.

Another option is an electronic bank transfer directly to the seller’s account. This creates a record of the payment and when it was made. Just be sure to only initiate the transfer once the paperwork is signed.

By avoiding payment in cash, you reduce the chances of fraudulent sellers who take the money and run. Stick to certified cheques, bank drafts or electronic transfers when buying a used car privately.

Never provide payment information until you have inspected the vehicle thoroughly and are ready to complete the purchase. Take precautions with your payment method to finalize the private sale securely.


Sign Paperwork

Once you’ve agreed on a price and are ready to complete the sale, there are some important documents that must be signed to finalize the transaction and transfer ownership.

The most essential document is the bill of sale. This records key details about the transaction including:


  • Names of buyer and seller
  • Vehicle details like make, model, year, VIN, mileage
  • Date of sale
  • Purchase price
  • Signatures of both parties


Having a bill of sale protects both you and the seller by recording the specifics of the transaction. Make sure all information is filled out completely before signing.

In addition to the bill of sale, you’ll need to sign transfer papers to put the vehicle’s ownership into your name. The seller should have the vehicle’s title which shows their ownership. Make sure the name on the title matches the seller’s ID. The title will have a section on the back to record the transfer of ownership to you as the new buyer. Both parties must sign this title transfer.

Some provinces may require additional forms to go along with the title transfer. For example in Ontario you need to complete a Used Vehicle Information Package. Check your province’s requirements.

Exchanging keys and paperwork completes the official purchase. Don’t forget to get copies of all signed documents for your records.


Register the Vehicle

Once you have purchased the used vehicle, you’ll need to transfer the title into your name and register it with the provincial government right away. This is an important step you must complete to legally drive the car.

Visit your local provincial licensing office or service center as soon as possible after buying the used car. Bring the signed title and bill of sale showing transfer of ownership. Pay any applicable taxes and registration fees to transfer the title and license plates into your name.

If the used vehicle is coming from another province, you may need to go through additional steps to register it in your home province and obtain new license plates. Research the specific procedures for importing an out-of-province used car.

In some cases, you may need to get the used car certified for safety standards before registering it. This involves an inspection and certification from an authorized mechanic. Any issues or defects with the vehicle must be repaired to pass the safety inspection. This ensures the used car meets provincial requirements before it can be driven on public roads.

Finally, once the registration and any safety certifications are complete, you can legally drive the used car you purchased from a private seller. Remember to get insurance set up right away as well, since you cannot drive the vehicle without active insurance.


Get Insurance

Before driving the used car home, you’ll need to have insurance coverage in place. Contact your insurance provider in advance to add the vehicle to your policy. Make sure you have at least basic liability coverage before getting behind the wheel. Bring proof of insurance when you go to pick up the vehicle. You may also need to show insurance paperwork when transferring the title and registration. Some provinces require you to provide an Insurance Certificate or Pink Slip. Don’t risk driving uninsured – take a few minutes to call your provider and get insured.



Buying a used car from a private seller can save you money over purchasing from a dealer, but only if you do your homework. Taking the time to thoroughly research vehicles, inspect cars, and verify ownership will help ensure you get a quality used car at a fair price.

Some of the key steps to keep in mind are determining your needs, searching classifieds and online listings, contacting sellers with detailed questions, carefully inspecting vehicles, getting a pre-purchase inspection by a mechanic, confirming the car’s history and title, negotiating a fair price supported by market research, using secure payment, signing over paperwork, and promptly registering the vehicle.

With so many potential pitfalls in buying a used car, having patience and doing your due diligence is crucial. Don’t cut corners or rush the process. And remember – if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Follow the guidance in this guide, and take your time, and you’ll end up with a used car you can feel confident about driving home.

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Questions About Buying a Used Car Privately

When buying a used car from a private seller in Canada, you’ll need the vehicle’s registration documentation, bill of sale, used vehicle information package, safety standards certificate (in some provinces), and proof of insurance. The registration documentation proves ownership and provides details on the car. The bill of sale outlines the sale terms. The used vehicle information package discloses mechanical/safety issues. And the safety certificate shows the vehicle passed inspection.


Make sure to verify the seller’s identity and have them sign the documentation. You’ll submit these documents to the provincial/territorial motor vehicle authority to officially transfer ownership into your name.

When buying a used car from a private seller in Canada, you’ll typically pay:


– Provincial/territorial sales tax

– Registration transfer fee

– License plate sticker fee

– Any late registration renewal fees

– Safety certification fee (in some provinces)


Taxes and fees vary by province/territory but expect to pay 10-15% provincial sales tax on the purchase price. The transfer and license plate sticker fees range from $20-$60 on average. Get a bill of sale from the seller stating the sale price to properly calculate taxes.

To safely buy a used vehicle from an individual in Canada:


– Meet the seller in a busy public place

– Test drive the car with a second person

– Inspect the car thoroughly

– Ask for vehicle history reports

– Verify ownership by checking the registration

– Get copies of all documentation

– Pay with a bank draft, not cash

– Complete the ownership transfer promptly


Following these tips will help ensure your safety and avoid issues with the private sale. Be wary of great deals that seem too good to true.

Buying a used car from a private seller in Canada is an “as is” purchase, so you don’t have implied warranties under consumer protection laws. But sellers still can’t misrepresent the vehicle’s condition. Request safety inspection reports, vehicle history, registration, and ownership documentation to protect your interests.


Test drive the car, take it to a mechanic, and ask if there are any issues. Get all claims from the seller in writing. If you find the seller misrepresented the vehicle after purchase, you may have legal options in your province/territory – but it’s an uphill battle. So do your due diligence beforehand.

Typically you cannot drive a used car purchased from an individual seller without registering it first. However, some Canadian provinces/territories allow temporary movement permits if certain conditions are met. These permits let you drive an unregistered vehicle home directly from the seller or to the motor vehicle authority. Check your provincial/territorial transportation ministry’s website for the latest rules.

Though standards vary slightly, used vehicles sold privately in Canada must pass basic mechanical and safety inspections for:


– Brakes

– Lightsing/signaling

– Seatbelts

– Tires

– Suspension/steering

– Windshield/windows

– Emissions control equipment


Certain provinces require this inspection before registering the change of ownership. Others allow a grace period for the new owner to complete it. If repairs are needed, they must be done before the vehicle passes. Know your province’s specifics.

Private sellers should disclose:


– Ownership/title records

– Accident history

– Total loss history

– Open recalls

– Service records

– Number of previous owners

– Odometer readings

– Registration/insurance details

– Any mechanical issues

– Damage repairs performed


Run your own vehicle history report too. Upfront disclosure from sellers builds trust in private sales.

Yes, you can write up your own bill of sale when buying a used car from a private seller in Canada. The document should include:


– Vehicle details (make, model, year, VIN, color)

– Mileage at sale date

– Sale price

– Payment method

– Date of sale

– Condition of the vehicle (sold “as is”)

– Seller and buyer names


Both parties must sign the bill of sale. Some provinces provide standardized forms, but a basic document can work. Keep this for registering the vehicle and calculating taxes.

When test driving someone’s used car they’re selling, take these precautions:


– Meet at seller’s residence first to reduce risk

– Confirm their identity matches ownership documentation

– Drive with a companion for safety reasons

– Follow seller’s prescribed test drive route

– Keep windows down and doors unlocked

– Remain alert to your surroundings at all times

– Inspect the vehicle before and after the test drive


Trust your instincts – if anything seems suspicious, end the test drive immediately. Make sure you feel completely safe.

The best places to find a used car sold by its owner locally are:


– Classified listings websites like Craigslist, Kijiji, LesPAC, etc.

– Facebook Marketplace and groups

– Online car sale platforms like and

– Used car dealers who sell private consignments

– Neighborhood billboards/car sale flyers

– Word of mouth referrals from family/friends

– Local used car search mobile apps


Filter results by location, price, make/model, year, mileage to match your preferences. Vet sellers thoroughly and view cars in-person before purchase.

Important questions to ask private used car sellers include:


– Why are you selling the car?

– How long have you owned it?

– How many owners has it had?

– What is the mileage and service history?

– Has it been in any accidents?

– Are there any mechanical issues or damage?

– Can I take it to my mechanic for inspection?

– Do you have maintenance records and ownership documentation?


Their answers will provide insight into the vehicle’s history and condition to inform your buying decision. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper on any concerns.

Buying a used car from an individual seller does carry more risk than at a dealership. With private sales there is no implied warranty, you don’t know the seller’s reputation, and you have less legal protections if issues arise later. However you may score a better deal and have more negotiation leverage too.


Protect yourself by taking these key steps:


– Inspect vehicle thoroughly yourself

– Get a safety standards certificate

– Confirm clean ownership/title

– Test drive extensively

– Inquire about service history

– Verify no liens exist


Do not cut corners – your due diligence is essential to avoid problems down the road.

The safest payment methods when buying a used car from an individual are:


– Certified bank check – Secure, traceable funds

– Wire transfer – Clearable payment also traced to buyer

– Escrow service – Holds funds until sale terms met

– Credit union draft – Guaranteed funds like certified check


Avoid these risky methods:


– Cash – No paper trail, theft risk

– Personal check – Insufficient funds issues

– Third-party online payment apps – Less recourse


Agree on payment method ahead of time and avoid carrying large cash amounts during in-person transactions.

To ensure a fair price when purchasing a used vehicle from an individual:


– Research the car’s market value via Black Book Canada and online car valuation sources

– Compare asking prices for similar vehicles on and Kijiji

– Factor in mechanical/safety inspection costs if needed

– Negotiate a lower price if the car needs any repairs

– Avoid paying higher than average retail value in your area


Consider mileage, condition, demand, options and history when assessing fairness. The price should align with these attributes. Be wary of deals well below market rate.

When buying a used car from an individual in Canada, insist on these key ownership documents from the seller:


– Vehicle registration proving current ownership

– Signed vehicle title transferring ownership to your name

– Bill of sale documenting purchase details

– Safety standards certificate in provinces requiring it


Review documents to ensure seller’s name/signature match and no liens on the title before finalizing the purchase. Confirm registration is current. Transfer this documentation over to the motor vehicle authority right away.

Yes, you can create your own basic sales agreement for a private party used car purchase in Canada. It should state:


– Vehicle VIN, make, model, year

– Buyer and seller identities

– Purchase price and payment terms

– Sale date

– “As is” sale disclaimer

– Ownership document transfer


Both parties must sign this sale agreement. Include any additional sale terms discussed. Keep a copy along with your bill of sale when registering the car in your name.

If paying cash for a private party used car transaction, protect yourself by:


– Meeting seller at secure public location

– Bringing a friend or family member

– Counting cash away from seller’s view

– Confirming cash is acceptable beforehand

– Recording serial numbers of bills

– Getting signed receipt with amount paid

– Transferring ownership documents before releasing funds


Never show large amounts of cash until the sale is complete. Take precautions for your safety and document the transaction.

With private party used auto sales, you have very limited legal recourse if issues arise down the road since it’s an “as is” purchase. But if you have written proof the seller lied or misrepresented the vehicle during sale discussions, you may be able to take legal action. Consult a consumer protection attorney on options.


Your best recourse is your due diligence upfront to avoid problems – through inspections, test drives, vehicle history checks and asking lots of questions before purchase. Don’t cut corners in your assessment.

To check if a private seller’s used car in Canada has liens or debts attached to it:


– Review title document for lien notation

– Run a used vehicle history report like Carfax

– Use provincial registry online system to search title status

– Ask seller to show lien release letter from financier

– Verify with seller’s auto insurance company

– Search Personal Property Registry


Ideally the title should show no liens and seller can provide a lien release letter from their auto financer if previously financed.

To transfer used vehicle ownership bought via private sale in Canada:


  1. Obtain signed title from seller with buyer/seller details
  2. Create bill of sale listing sale specifics
  3. Settle payment amount
  4. Cancel seller’s insurance (call provider)
  5. Get safety inspection if required
  6. Visit motor vehicle authority right away
  7. Submit transfer paperwork/fees to authority
  8. Obtain new registration under your name
  9. Get new license plates & insurance


Promptly complete this ownership change process to legally drive the car. Don’t delay registration transfer steps after taking possession.

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