Buying a used car? Tips to find the right ride
While cheap loans can make buying a new car seem attractive, opting instead for a used vehicle is sometimes be a better choice.
Let’s be honest, the new car smell is great but it’s not always worth the thousands of dollars a hunk of metal depreciates the minute it’s driven off the lot.
There are a few things to consider when shopping for a used car so that the savings don’t shift gears into pricey repairs and headaches down the road.
Here are four tips to help you when shopping for a used car so that you can find the right vehicle as smoothly as possible.
Take it for a spin
This is your first chance to see if the car drives the way you like and whether there are signs of trouble with how it hums along.
When starting up the car for the first time, it should fire up easily. Look at the dashboard and keep an eye out for warning symbols like a check engine light. If the instrument panel lights up like a Christmas tree, it’s not worth shifting it out of park.
Automotive Retailers Association president and CEO Ken McCormack says shoppers should look for other problem signs in the car as they’re driving along.
"It shouldn't pull in any direction or vibrate and shouldn't give any excessive road noise,” he says. “When applying the brakes, the pedal should be firm without any pulsation or noticeable feedback.”
Shifts should also be smooth and the engine shouldn’t hesitate or stutter, he says. And don’t forget to look at what’s going on behind you as you drive away.
“Any blue or black smoke from the exhaust as well as any burning smells or unpleasant odours from the car should be a red flag.”
Get the history
While a seller might claim that a vehicle is “accident free” and only ever had one owner, a bit of research can easily tell you whether that’s true.
McCormack suggests buyers get a vehicle history report for the specific car they’re interested in.
“Vehicle history reports have come a long way in the last ten years,” he says. “Currently the best option for Canadian car shoppers is Carproof.”
Such a report can be provided by the seller, or it’s something the buyer can get on their own online.
Carproof's vice president of marketing Joe Varkey says they can also tell buyers if a body shop provided an estimate to repair damage - even if an insurance claim wasn’t actually made.
“The difference is that if you saw a $1,000 estimate but no insurance claims, you know something happened. It may not be anything significant, but you know something.”
This additional information can help buyers negotiate a better deal on the car if they don’t mind that there's been minor damage, as long as it was repaired properly.
“And if the seller is telling you a car is perfect, you run a Carproof, and you see a $15,000 claim on it, then you know something about the seller,” Varkey says.
In addition to the ownership, odometer and claims history of a vehicle, a Carproof report can also tell buyers where a vehicle has been registered over the course of its lifetime.
“Let’s say you’re in B.C….is the car you’re looking at from B.C., Alberta or Quebec?
You may want a car that has never seen salt,” he says.
A vehicle with a lien against it, or if it’s branded (a classification attached to severely damaged vehicles), should be avoided.
Inspect, inspect, inspect
After going on a test drive and looking over a history report, there could still be problems lurking under the hood.
But wait, shouldn’t it be OK if a vehicle passed its provincial Private Vehicle Inspection (PVI)?
The PVI “really only skims the surface and covers mostly safety related issues,” McCormack says.
While a PVI might tell you that there’s enough tread on the tires and the brake lights work, it could miss other mechanical issues like a serious oil leak.
Some shops may offer a report based on their own mechanical inspection, in addition to the PVI. If a dealership does offer you its own in-depth mechanical inspection report, has a good online reputation, offers a warranty and includes a return policy, McCormack says their inspection may be enough.
But you should also consider taking the car to your own mechanic, to get it inspected, especially if you’re buying in a private sale.
“A secondary inspection is like insurance, so if it makes you feel better and you determine that it's good value, then I would recommend it for peace of mind,” McCormack says.
Get a deal that’s true
If you’re happy with the vehicle and its mechanics check out, it’s time to close the deal. But before you commit, make sure the price is right. And yes, there’s such a problem as a car being too cheap.
“Nothing, absolutely nothing should scare a purchaser more than if a vehicle is dramatically lower priced than comparable (models),” McCormack says.
Just as you do research to find the right car, it’s also important to research the seller.
McCormack says buyers should run a check on the Vehicle Safety Authority’s website to make sure a shop or sales representative is in good standing.
If you’re purchasing privately you have to be more careful. McCormack suggests shoppers avoid curbers, because the buyer would have nearly no recourse if something were to go wrong as opposed to dealing with a licensed dealer.