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Buying a Used Car: Some Helpful Hints
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Buying a car can be an overwhelming experience. Here are some things to keep in mind when you go on your search. Our biggest piece of advice: be on guard at all times.

Ensure the car has proper ownership:
  • Arrange to have viewings from private seller’s at their home
Question the seller:
  • Ask why they are selling
  • Check that they are owner/ have owner’s permission to sell
  • Ask about car history, for later comparison
You may want to invest in a vehicle history check in order to see:
  • Number of owners the car has had
  • Financial status of the vehicle
  • Other discrepancies that were not revealed to you
Check the vehicle’s log book (V5C):
  • Be sure it matches with the research you have done in the last two tips
Carefully look through the car’s service history:
  • Make sure it is consistent with what the seller’s has said, as well as the research you have done
  • Note what work has been done, and at which garages
  • Also check accompanying receipts and invoices to seen if any other work has been done to the vehicle
Service history can be purchased through the Ministry of Transportation:
  • Vehicle Information Package should be provided by the seller
  • If not one can be purchased through the MTO’s Used Vehicle Information Program for $20.00
The package contains the following information:

  • Description of the vehicle
  • Ontario vehicle registration history
  • Odometer Information
  • If there are any liens registered against the vehicle
  • Wholesale and retail values for the vehicle's model and year
  • Retail sales tax requirements
  • Bill of sale
  • Other information such as consumer tips on vehicle safety standards inspections
  • To buy a package, the plate number, vehicle identification number, make, model, and year of the vehicle are needed.
  • Package can be bought online, or contact any Driver and Vehicle License Issuing Offices across Ontario.
Register as new owner:
  • Go to the Driver and Vehicle License Issuing Office to register as the new owner within six days of the sale
Other aspects of the car to look for both inside and out include:
  • Check the body of the car - look carefully at the windshield, mirrors, wipers, wheels and hubcaps.
  • Look for dents, scratches and colour defects - colour defects may indicate a touch up has occurred to the car. This may also allow you to negotiate a lower price on the vehicle sale from a dealership. Check under and around the car for rust.
  • Look for signs of accidents - Buyers should avoid buying car that has been in serious collisions, though they may be in otherwise relatively good condition. Many times buyers in this situation find problems appear later on in the life of the car, many of which are very expensive.
  • Take your time looking at the car - Make sure you slowly inspect each aspect of the body.
  • Use a magnet - this is to check if the body has been repaired. Original vehicle bodies are metal, body work is not, and therefore aside from part replacement, you can tell if any major work was done to the car. This will also help to detect corrosion. Compare this to the history you have already collected.
  • Look for a trailer hitch - This may have caused further wear and tear to the car.
  • Check the tires of the car - look for brand names tires such as Bridgestone, Pirelli, BF Goodrich, etc.
  • Check the wear of the tire - the original tread of a tire should be greater than 1.5mm, which is the minimum level a tread can be legally. New tires have a tread depth of 8mm. One trick is to stick a penny in the treads, the top of the maple leaf into the tire. If you can see the top Queen Elizabeth II’s head above the thread, the tires need replacement.
  • Check the sidewalls for large bumps - this could indicate problems in the structure of the tire.
  • Check the interior of the car - the seat coverings, particularly the drivers should not be too worn. Make sure you are able to adjust seats in the car. In the case of a hatch-back or convertible, test to ensure the mechanisms are functional.
  • Check the dashboard - Make sure all the functions work, particularly when test driving. Look for warning lights, as they indicate problems with the car.
  • Check the seatbelts - By law, all passengers within a vehicle must wear their seatbelt. Make sure the vehicle has the number of belts for the number of seats in the car. If not, make sure they are easily replaceable for a reasonable price. Look at the condition of existing seatbelts, and test their functionality.
  • Check the accessories which come with the car - If the car has power windows and doors, or a sunroof, ensure they work properly.
  • Check all remote functions - Make sure you are able to lock and unlock the car, open the trunk, if this feature is available, and test the alarm system. If you are unable to figure out these functions, ask for a demonstration.
  • Check the trunk - Look for water damage on the trunk lining, and make sure there is a spare tire in the car, as well as a jack.
  • Check the A/C and Heater - Warm up the engine before testing. The A/C should begin to work immediately. Make sure all vents are working properly and distributing even air. Check the heater at all speeds to make sure it works correctly. Also check the vents at the top of the dash directing air to the windshield. On cold days, this feature is important in visibility.

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