Buyer’s guide: 8 things to inspect when buying a used car

Buying a used car may feel like an overwhelming challenge.

There’s so much to choose from and an almost endless number of models, but it all boils down to your own tastes and needs. Once you’ve unearthed that rare gem, it would benefit you to take a few precautions before making your purchase.

1- Study the CARFAX Canada report

CARFAX Canada is a report that’s often provided by the seller, or you can easily order one online for a few dollars. Simply enter the used vehicle’s identification number, and you’ll receive a detailed overview of the car’s history. The report will also tell you whether there are any payments outstanding on the car. If so, be sure to obtain a quittance releasing you from any charges once the purchase is final, because if the vehicle has been used as collateral against an unpaid loan by the previous owner, you may be obliged to give it up without getting a cent of your money refunded.

2- Ask to see the maintenance booklet

Conscientious owners follow the maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer. And while most sellers may not keep detailed notes of the dates and work carried out, they likely have a few invoices that will give you information about maintenance activities. So don’t hesitate to ask whether the car has been serviced in recent months.

3- Do a visual inspection

Never buy a used vehicle in the evening after dark! In the daylight, you can do an initial visual inspection, which will give you plenty of information. The condition of the tires, for example, will tell you how the vehicle has been treated (tires with excessive or uneven wear may indicate neglect or mechanical problems). Check the windows to ensure they function properly; try out the headlights, brake lights and signals; and take a good look in the wheel wells and even under the chassis to make sure there isn’t too much corrosion.

4- Climb inside

As with a house, the inside of a car says a lot about its owner and the overall condition of the car. A strong, damp odour may be a sign of a problem with the ventilation system or carpets. Checking the state of the seats and the amount of support they offer is also a must. A little wear or a few scratches on the vinyl are to be expected.

5- Take a test drive 

You wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without first trying them on and walking around in them. You should take a test drive to get a feel for how the car accelerates and handles, its comfort level, how the brakes respond, and how the engine sounds.

6- Have the vehicle inspected

You have the right and even a responsibility to turn to an independent mechanic for an inspection of the vehicle. It’s the best way to know what you’re getting into.

7- Check for extras

The car is great, but do you find the price a touch high? Check to see what’s included. Extras like a roof rack or winter tires can affect the purchase price.

8- Do the math

Once all the inspections are done, compare your vehicle with similar ones on the market and Kijiji. Also, look into your financing options, either at your bank or elsewhere. Some dealers offer leases on used cars, but this tends to be rare. Personal loans or car loans offered by your financial institution are often the best option.

Be sure to keep one aspect in mind: the purchase of a used vehicle will often get you the car of your dreams, with just a few kilometres on the odometer.

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