Car Deal Canada

Used Car Buying Tips

Used Car Buying Tips

Buying a used car in Canada can be a daunting process, especially if you don’t know where to start. However, with the right preparation and research, you can end up with a reliable used vehicle while saving thousands compared to buying new. This comprehensive guide will provide all the essential tips you need for finding and purchasing a used car in Canada.

The key to success when buying a pre-owned vehicle is taking the time to assess your needs, thoroughly research options, properly inspect vehicles, negotiate a fair price and review all paperwork carefully before finalizing the sale. It may take more effort upfront, but you’ll have peace of mind knowing you did your due diligence.

Follow this used car buying checklist to navigate the process seamlessly. We’ll cover determining your needs, setting a budget, where to search listings, what to look for in a vehicle history report, how to inspect and test drive, calculating ownership costs, financing options and ensuring you have all necessary paperwork for a smooth transaction.

Buying a used car in Canada can be a great way to get a reliable vehicle while saving money compared to a new car. This comprehensive guide will provide all the essential tips you need to find and purchase a quality used car with confidence.

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Determine Your Vehicle Needs

The first step when buying a used car is determining your needs and wants. Consider how you plan to use the vehicle on a daily basis. Do you need room for kids or pets? Will you be commuting long distances or making frequent trips around town? Are you looking for fuel efficiency or the ability to haul equipment and gear?

Make a list of must-haves versus nice-to-haves. How many passengers do you need to accommodate? Do you haul sports equipment, camping gear or other cargo frequently? Take measurements to know how much interior and trunk space is required.

Your daily commute distance will help narrow down fuel economy as well. For short city trips, hybrids and electric vehicles can save substantially on gas. However, for longer highway drives, a diesel or gas vehicle may suit your needs better. Consider your driving habits and expected annual mileage when estimating costs.

Prioritize the features that align with your intended use. This will make comparing models and searching listings more efficient. Keep an open mind about different vehicle types that could meet your needs too. A crossover or minivan may work just as well as an SUV for many buyers.


Set Your Budget

When buying a used car in Canada, it’s essential to set a realistic budget based on your financial situation. This involves researching average used car prices and factoring in additional ownership costs beyond just the purchase price.

A good starting point is to browse online listings on sites like AutoTrader and Kijiji to get a sense of pricing for the make, model, year and mileage you’re considering. The Canadian Black Book is another excellent resource for determining used car values. Focus your budget on the lower end of the price range for the vehicle type you want, as there may be room to negotiate.

Be sure to account for taxes and fees in your province. In Ontario for example, you’ll need to budget for 13% HST on a private sale. There are also licensing and registration costs which can add a few hundred dollars depending on the jurisdiction.

Insurance is a significant expense, often $1000+ per year for basic coverage in Canada. Get quotes from providers like Belairdirect and Sonnet ahead of time so you know how much to budget for your preferred coverage. Financing costs should also be factored in if you require an auto loan.

By researching pricing and calculating total ownership costs, you can set a realistic used car budget and avoid spending beyond your means. Stick to this budget as you search for and negotiate on vehicles. Having a fixed price limit will give you leverage during the negotiation process later on.


Search Used Car Listings

When you’re ready to start your search, cast a wide net by looking at listings across the country or even into the United States. Expanding your search area will give you many more options to find the right vehicle at the right price.

Rather than limiting yourself to local classifieds, use national sites like AutoTrader, Kijiji and Craigslist which compile listings from everywhere. You can search by make, model, year, mileage, price and other filters to pinpoint options.

Pay attention to listings from dealerships and sellers who provide vehicle history reports upfront. This shows they have taken steps to document the car’s background and don’t have issues to hide. A CarProof or Carfax report will let you know key details like accidents, liens, odometer verification and maintenance records.

While in-person inspections are ideal, you can get a lot of information remotely. Ask sellers to provide extensive photos of the exterior and interior from all angles so you can assess wear and tear. Request a video showing operation of the engine, electronics and features.

By expanding your online search nationwide, you’ll have many more vehicles to choose from. Focus your efforts on sellers who provide vehicle history reports for the best transparency.


Research Reliability

Once you’ve narrowed down the makes and models you’re interested in, it’s important to research their reliability and common issues. Consult resources like Consumer Reports and J.D. Power to see reliability ratings and recall data. You can also search online forums and groups to see what types of problems current and past owners have experienced.

Pay attention to the frequency and severity of issues for the model years you’re considering. Some vehicles may have chronic problems across many model years, while others may have just a few isolated recalls. Understanding the weak points of a particular make and model will help you inspect and test it more thoroughly during your evaluation.

While no used vehicle will be perfect, avoiding those with a track record of major mechanical flaws, premature part failures, and safety recalls can help prevent headaches down the road. Taking the time to research reliability will pay off in the long run with fewer unexpected repair bills.


Car History Reports

Getting a vehicle history report is one of the most important steps when buying a used car in Canada. Reports from providers like CarProof and CarFax can provide valuable information on a vehicle’s background that can impact your buying decision.

These reports detail the entire history of a vehicle based on its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). They can show:


  • Number of previous owners
  • Odometer readings to check for rollbacks or discrepancies
  • Details of any major collisions, damage or repairs
  • Maintenance and service records
  • Lien records if there is outstanding financing
  • Canadian registration history
  • Import records if the vehicle was brought into Canada


Reviewing the vehicle history report is important to spot any red flags like lapses in ownership, major damage, or odometer rollbacks. This can help you avoid buying a used car with significant problems down the road.

Ask the seller to provide a recent vehicle history report from CarProof or CarFax. You can also purchase your own report to get an unbiased version. While not a guarantee, having a clean and verifiable history report can give you peace of mind about the vehicle’s background.


Schedule Test Drives

Test driving a used car is one of the most important steps when buying a used vehicle. It allows you to assess the overall condition and get a feel for how the car handles and performs. Here are some key things to look out for during a test drive:


  • How does the engine sound and feel when accelerating and idling? Listen for any knocking, pinging or unusual noises.
  • Test all gears and pay attention to the transmission shifting. Make sure it changes gears smoothly.
  • Do the brakes feel responsive? Make sure they stop the vehicle straight without pulling to one side.
  • How is the steering and suspension? The steering wheel should turn smoothly without much play.
  • Check all dashboard lights and electronics like headlights, turn signals, wipers etc.
  • Note any vibrations, smells or smoke that could indicate issues.
  • Test different road conditions if possible, like hills, bumps and highway driving.


While test driving, ask the seller questions like:


  • Has the vehicle been in any accidents?
  • Why are you selling the vehicle?
  • How long have you owned it and how was it used?
  • Has regular maintenance been done? Any major repairs?
  • Are there any issues you know of with the car?


Taking the car for a thorough test drive allows you to uncover issues and get insight into the vehicle history from the seller.


Inspect Thoroughly

When test driving and inspecting a used vehicle, be sure to take your time and look over every detail. Here’s what to check:


Exterior Walkaround

Do a slow walkaround of the entire exterior. Look for any dents, scratches, mismatched paint, rust, or other body damage. Check that the body panels line up properly and the gaps are even. Examine the tires for wear and make sure all four match. Look under the car for leaks or damage. Ensure no panels look like they have been replaced or repainted.


Interior Inspection

Sit in each seat and check for comfort and wear. Make sure seat adjustments and seat belts are working. Check all interior lights and accessories like power windows, locks, mirrors, sunroof etc. Turn on the stereo and climate controls to verify functionality. Look for any stains, damage, or odors that could indicate issues.


Under the Hood

With the engine off and cool, open the hood to inspect the engine bay. Check fluid levels including oil, coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid. Make sure they are filled, clean and not leaking. Look at the belts and hoses for cracks or damage. Check the battery condition and connections. Review service records to confirm regular maintenance has been performed.


Get a Pre-Purchase Inspection

One of the most important steps when buying a used car is to get a pre-purchase inspection done by a trusted, independent mechanic. This will give you an unbiased, expert opinion on the current condition of the vehicle and can identify any issues or needed repairs that may not be obvious upon initial inspection.

A pre-purchase inspection typically costs $100-$150 but is well worth the investment. The mechanic will put the car up on a lift and do a thorough inspection of all major systems including the engine, transmission, drivetrain, suspension, brakes, electrical components and more.

They will test drive the vehicle, scan it for trouble codes, and examine things like tire wear, fluid levels, belts, hoses, and other maintenance items. Having a professional mechanic check over the car can potentially save you thousands by avoiding a purchase of a vehicle with hidden problems.

Be sure to get the pre-purchase inspection done before agreeing to buy the used car. If issues are found, you can use that information to negotiate a lower price or walk away from the sale if repairs are too costly. Taking this important step protects you from buying a used lemon and gives you peace of mind about your major purchase.


Calculate Total Ownership Costs

When budgeting for a used car purchase, look beyond just the sticker price. Be sure to factor in ongoing ownership costs over the life of the vehicle. Here are some key things to estimate:


  • Insurance – Get quotes to estimate annual insurance costs.
  • Fuel – Research the highway/city fuel economy and estimate your yearly fuel costs.
  • Maintenance – Check the service schedule for tune-ups, oil changes, etc. Budget around $700-1,000 per year.
  • Repairs – As a car ages, expect more repairs. Budget $500-1,000 per year for a 5-10 year old used car.
  • Registration/Licensing – Provincial fees to register and plate your vehicle annually.
  • Depreciation – All vehicles lose value each year. Calculate an estimated residual value after 5 years.


Add up these projected costs over the years you plan to own the vehicle. This will give you a better idea of the true long term cost and value comparison of different vehicles.


Negotiate the Price

Getting the best deal on a used car often comes down to your negotiation skills. Here are some tips to negotiate the price and potentially save thousands:


  • Research the market value – Use pricing guides like Canadian Black Book to determine the fair market value based on make, model, year, mileage etc. This gives you a target to aim for.
  • Get pre-approved financing – If you have financing already secured, you have more leverage in negotiating only the sale price.
  • Point out flaws – Politely point out any defects, damage or wear and tear issues to ask for a lower price.
  • Mention other listings – Reference similar vehicles you’ve seen listed for less to get them to come down.
  • Make a lower counteroffer – Offer 10-15% less than asking price and negotiate up to an agreeable middle ground.
  • Request extras – See if they’ll throw in new tires, a set of winter wheels, extended warranty etc. to increase the deal value.
  • Walk away if needed – Be willing to walk away from a bad deal. This shows you won’t overpay.


With the right negotiation approach, you can often save thousands off the sticker price. But avoid high-pressure tactics and focus on finding a fair price that works for both parties.


Secure Financing

One of the most important steps when buying a used car is securing financing ahead of time. Going into a dealership pre-approved for an auto loan can give you leverage when negotiating the price. It also shows the seller that you are a serious buyer who has done their homework.

The best way to get pre-approved is by visiting your bank or credit union. They will assess your credit score and income to determine the loan amount and interest rate you qualify for. Banks typically offer lower interest rates than dealerships, so you can end up with a better monthly payment. Credit unions are also a great financing option, often offering the most competitive rates.

Some of the benefits of getting pre-approved financing include:


  • Knowing your budget and maximum purchase price
  • Having stronger negotiating power on the car’s sale price
  • Avoiding impulse purchases that stretch your budget
  • Comparing multiple lenders to find the best loan terms


However, there can be some drawbacks to pre-approval as well:


  • Dealers may not accept your outside financing and steer you toward their own loans
  • You may not qualify for low dealer financing rates offered in promotions
  • The pre-approval may expire if you don’t find a car quickly


Overall, being pre-approved before visiting dealerships removes much of the stress and anxiety from the financing process. Just be sure to still compare any dealer financing offers to your pre-approval terms. This will ensure you get the best interest rate and overall loan for your used car purchase.


Review All Paperwork Thoroughly

One of the most important steps when buying a used car is carefully reviewing all the paperwork. Rushing through this process or missing key details could result in major headaches down the road. Be sure to verify the following:


  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) – Confirm the VIN on the ownership matches the VIN plates/stickers on the vehicle itself. This ensures the paperwork goes with the vehicle.
  • Ownership – Review the used vehicle’s ownership (title equivalent in Canada) for any liens, restrictions, or brand notations that could affect resale value.
  • Safety Standards Certificate – In most provinces, the used vehicle must have a valid safety certificate issued within a certain timeframe in order to be legally driven.
  • Bill of Sale – Review the bill of sale for correct information on the vehicle, sales price, date of sale, and both parties’ names and signatures.


Taking the time to carefully examine all documents protects you from potential fraud and ensures you legally own the used vehicle free and clear. Don’t feel rushed by the seller – take your time reviewing each piece of paperwork.


Insure Your Vehicle

Once you’ve purchased your used car, it’s crucial to get insurance before driving it. In Canada, minimum auto insurance is mandated by law, though requirements vary by province. At a minimum, you’ll need basic coverage like third-party liability and accident benefits.

When insuring your used car, it’s wise to compare quotes from multiple providers. Rates can vary significantly based on your driving history, vehicle make and model, coverage limits and deductibles. Using an online insurance quote tool makes it easy to compare and find the best rate.

Provide accurate details when getting quotes, including the VIN, year/make/model and intended use of the vehicle. Take stock of your current coverage and financial situation to determine ideal liability limits and deductibles. Opting for higher deductibles usually reduces your premiums.

Review the quote details carefully before purchasing a policy. Make sure you understand what’s covered and excluded. Consider adding endorsements like rental reimbursement or roadside assistance based on your needs and budget.

By taking the time to shop around and compare insurance quotes, you can gain peace of mind knowing your used car is properly covered at a competitive rate.



Buying a used car can seem daunting, but breaking the process down into manageable steps makes it much more approachable. Focus first on determining your needs and budget. Research reliability and common issues for models you’re considering. Expand your search distance to open up more options. Once you’ve narrowed down the listings, dig into the vehicle history and maintenance records. Schedule thorough test drives and inspections to identify any problems. Calculate total ownership costs, not just the sticker price. Negotiate a fair deal based on your research. Review all paperwork carefully before signing and paying. Allow extra time so you don’t feel rushed. If you follow these tips and do your due diligence, you’ll end up with a reliable used car at a great value.

The key things to remember are: assess your needs, stick to your budget, research thoroughly, get complete vehicle history, take test drives, get inspections, negotiate the best price, and review paperwork closely. Buying a used car takes time and effort upfront, but saves you money in the long run. Approach it systematically, and you’ll drive away happy with your purchase.

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Questions About Buying a Used Car in Canada

Both used and new cars have their advantages in Canada. Used cars tend to be more affordable, while new cars offer the latest features and often have manufacturer warranties. When buying used, be sure to inspect the vehicle thoroughly, get a vehicle history report, and have a mechanic check it over. Ultimately the choice comes down to your budget and needs.

When buying a used car in Canada, you’ll want to thoroughly inspect it inside and out. Check for any signs of damage, rust, or wear and tear. Ask to see maintenance records to understand the vehicle’s history. Take it for an extensive test drive on different road conditions. Have a trusted mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection to uncover any issues. Also get a vehicle history report to check for accidents, liens, odometer rollbacks etc.

When buying a used car privately in Canada, you’ll want to make sure to get all the necessary paperwork from the seller, including:


– The vehicle’s registration certificate proving ownership


– Service records and receipts


– Accident or damage reports


– A used vehicle information package


Having documentation on the car’s history helps ensure you make an informed purchase. You’ll also need to officially transfer ownership by registering the vehicle under your name.


When buying a used car in Canada, fees to budget for include:


– Taxes – PST/HST. GST for private sales


– Registration and license plate fees


– Safety standards certificate cost


– Emissions testing fees


– Dealer documentation fees if purchased from a lot


– Adjustments for minor repairs or reconditioning


– Private sale paperwork fees


Knowing the potential fees involved allows you to accurately plan your total vehicle purchase budget.

To check for any outstanding loans or liens on a used car you want to purchase in Canada, you’ll want to get a vehicle history report from CARFAX Canada. This will clearly indicate any liens still tied to the car that you would become responsible for if purchasing it. You can also contact the provincial Personal Property Registry to do a search on the vehicle for any security interests registered against it.


Key questions to ask a private seller when buying a used car include:


– Why are you selling the vehicle?


– How long have you owned it and was it used personally or commercially?


– Does it have any existing mechanical issues or damage?


– What is the maintenance history and are there records available?


– Has it been in any accidents?


Asking the right questions allows you to gain more insight on the vehicle so you can determine if it’s a smart purchase or not.

Before finalizing a used car purchase, it’s highly recommended to get both:


  1. A vehicle history report like CARFAX to uncover its background


  1. An independent pre-purchase inspection (PPI) by a trusted mechanic. This will assess mechanical condition, needed repairs, wear and tear etc. Some key things they inspect include the engine, transmission, electronics, drivetrain and more.


Getting both these inspections done allows you to make the most informed decision and avoid buying a used lemon. They provide key insights on the car so you know what you’re getting into.

When looking to finance a used car purchase in Canada, you have several options including:


– Bank car loans – Your bank or local credit union


– Dealer financing – Loan through the dealership


– Private financing – Borrow from an individual


– Personal loans – Finance through an online lender


– Line of credit – Use available funds from your bank


– Leasing – Make lower monthly payments


Compare all options to find the best used car loan rates and terms for your financial situation.


Used cars in Canada can come with:


– Remaining factory warranty – If the new car warranty hasn’t expired


– Certified Pre-Owned warranty – For certified used vehicles


– Third-party/Aftermarket warranties – Additional protection plans


– As-is no warranty – No coverage offered


Inspect what warranty a used car may still have and consider purchasing your own aftermarket plan for added consumer protection after buying it.

While the CARFAX Canada vehicle history report provides excellent insight into a used car’s background, it isn’t quite enough on its own to make a purchase decision. It’s still recommended to get a mechanical pre-purchase inspection done by a trusted mechanic before buying. They will assess critical components not reflected on a CARFAX report including engine, transmission, drivetrain condition etc. Consider the CARFAX report a starting point rather than the only factor in your used car buying journey.

When transferring ownership of a used car in Canada, you’ll need to officially register it under the new owner’s name through your provincial government. Required paperwork typically includes the signed vehicle bill of sale showing purchase details, documentation proving valid insurance, safety standards certificate, emissions test results as applicable and the complete Application for Vehicle Registration. This transfers liability and registers new ownership.


For securely paying a private seller when buying a used vehicle, your best options include:


– Certified cheque – Have funds verified by a bank


– Bank draft – Guaranteed form of payment


– Cash – Count bills carefully in front of seller


– Interac e-Transfer – Instantly transfer money


Avoid risky payment methods like personal checks or wire transfers. Pay only once paperwork is signed and you take possession of the car. This prevents potential fraud.

Some strategies to negotiate down the price on a used car include:


– Research the vehicle’s value in advance on sites like CARFAX to have valid price comparisons


– Point out any flaws or needed repairs to ask the seller to lower their price


– Offer to pay in cash, which may incentivize the seller to offer a discount


– Time your purchase right before new models are released, when prices dip


– Bundle a trade-in vehicle, warranty or financing with the purchase to reduce the bottom line


Realistically you can often negotiate 5-15% off a used car’s asking price in Canada. Just negotiate politely and back up requests with reasonable data.


When negotiating a used car deal with a dealership, information not to disclose includes:


– Your budget or maximum spending limit


– Whether you have outside financing already secured


– Your trading in a vehicle until an offer is finalized


– How you’ll primarily use the vehicle (commuting, business etc.)


– Excitement or emotional attachment to a specific car


Keeping key financial information and motivations private gives you more leverage to negotiate the best possible deal. Provide details strictly on a need-to-know basis only after an offer is on the table.

It’s extremely important to get at minimum basic liability insurance immediately after purchasing a used car in Canada before driving it at all. Insurance must be secured either the very same day you take ownership or next day at the absolute latest. Driving without insurance can lead to severe fines, inability to register the car and even impoundment. Don’t take risks by delaying securing coverage.

Some used vehicles that often provide the best overall value in the Canadian market include:


– Toyota Corolla


– Honda Civic


– Mazda3


– Subaru Impreza


– Ford F150


These model tend to have lower than average depreciation rates, cheaper maintenance costs, good reliability and decent fuel economy. Checking a car’s resale value on Canadian Black Book in advance helps determine its value retention and money saving potential.


Some common used car scams to watch out for in Canada include:


– Tampered odometers showing false low mileage


– Curbstoning – an unlicensed seller posing as a private individual


– Title washing – erasing a salvaged/rebuilt title history


– Fake vehicle history reports from non-reputable providers


Always verify ownership, inspect thoroughly and get a CARFAX Canada report from the official source to avoid falling victim to used car scams. If you suspect fraudulent activity, walk away from the purchase immediately. Trust your instincts.

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