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While there are plenty of perks to buying a used vehicle (starting with a more budget-friendly price tag), the process is a little different from buying a brand new vehicle — and there are some important steps you’ll want to take to avoid trouble down the road. Take these tips for a spin before you hand over your hard-earned money:

Do your homework

Once you’ve found a vehicle that seems right for you, do your homework and learn about the vehicle’s history before you consider taking it for a test drive.

  1. Research the specific model’s reputation and read satisfaction reviews from other drivers. Consider factors like fuel efficiency, overall performance, safety ratings, driver assistance systems, and hands-free technology options.
  2. Visit Transport Canada’s Motor Vehicles Safety Recalls Database and enter the vehicle’s make, model, and year to find out if there have been any recalls on the model you’re considering. If the vehicle has had any recalls, ask for proof that the required repairs have been completed.
  3. Get a history report from a reputable service (like CarProof, for example) that lists important details like previous collisions and insurance claims, theft reports, recall notices, and outstanding money owed on the vehicle. Depending on your location, you may also be able to find out if the vehicle has been involved in a flood by using the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s VIN Verify service.

Take it for a good spin

A five-minute test drive isn’t nearly long enough to properly assess whether you’ll be happy with a vehicle for years to come. Plan on a longer trip so you’ll have time to hit the highway and some pothole-lined streets to get a sense of how the vehicle responds to different conditions. Check these steps off your list before and during your test drive.

Before you hit the road:

  1. Open and close each of the doors, windows, and the trunk to make sure they work.
  2. Try buckling and unbuckling all of the seatbelts.
  3. Make sure the paint job looks consistent over the entire vehicle, and look for paint overspray on door seals and around the trunk and hood. Paint overspray or inconsistent colouring could mean the vehicle has been repaired and repainted at some point (after a collision, perhaps).
  4. Have the owner flash the brake lights, headlights, tail lights, and high-beams to make sure they’re all working.
  5. Check that all four tires are the same and show consistent wear.
  6. Look at the odometer. A vehicle’s wear-and-tear is often measured by the number of kilometres driven, so an older vehicle with fewer kilometres may last longer than a newer vehicle that was driven significantly more.

During your test drive:

  1. Adjust the seat, steering wheel, and mirrors to your preferences, and make sure you’re in a comfortable position before you get started.
  2. Drive as though the vehicle is already yours — you need to make sure it will be a good fit with your regular driving habits. Accelerate, brake, merge, pass, and park as you normally would. 
  3. Try out the heat and air conditioning to make sure both systems work.
  4. Crank up the stereo system to check for any fuzziness or blown speakers.
  5. Don’t ignore your senses. If you smell anything strange (like exhaust or gas), hear any questionable sounds (like fuzziness on the speakers or the sound of the vehicle’s parts jiggling), or feel anything odd (like vibration in the steering wheel or the vehicle veering to one side), find out the source of the problem before making the car yours.

When in doubt, don’t be afraid to take the vehicle for a second (or third) test drive before you commit to buying it.

Get a professional opinion

Once you’ve put the vehicle through its paces with a good test drive (or two) and determined it’s the right vehicle for you, drive it over to your trusted mechanic and ask for a thorough inspection. A qualified professional will know what to look for and can warn you about any red flags. Yes, you’ll likely have to pay for this service, but it could save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars down the road.

Ask some important questions

So, you’ve done your homework, taken your dream ride for a test drive, and had it inspected by a pro. Before you sign on the dotted line, ask these important questions:

  1. Will the manufacturer’s warranty be transferred to you when you purchase the vehicle? Depending on the age of the car, the manufacturer’s warranty (or extended warranty, if the previous owner purchased one) may still be in effect. You may be able to have the warranty transferred into your name once you take over the vehicle’s ownership.
  2. Were any modifications made after the vehicle left the manufacturer? When you buy insurance for your new-to-you vehicle, you’ll need to tell your insurer about any modifications that have been made to alter the vehicle’s appearance or performance. Some types of modifications may increase the cost of your insurance or even compromise your eligibility for coverage, so finding out about them before you buy a used car can help you avoid any issues down the road.
  3. Will the seller take less than what they’re asking? Many sellers will ask for more than they expect to receive for a vehicle, and negotiating could save you hundreds of dollars. The seller may not be willing to lower the price, but there’s no harm in asking.

Get the facts about insurance for used vehicles

Before you take the plunge, find out how buying a used car can affect your coverage and the cost of your insurance — you might be surprised to learn, for example, that insurance won’t necessarily be cheaper for a used vehicle.

Once you’ve narrowed down your top picks, contact a licensed car insurance broker to go over your options and get the best coverage to suit your needs.


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