Buying a Used Car

When buying a used car, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and make sure you are getting a good deal.


You should know what type of car you are looking for before meeting with potential sellers. Use the internet to perform research about the make, model and year of the cars you are interested in buying.

By comparing prices on online car websites as well as prices of cars for sale in your local newspapers, you’ll be better prepared for your meeting and the negotiation process.

Visual Inspection

Once you've found a car you're interested in, a quick visual inspection can tell you whether or not you want to continue the discussion with the seller. Focus on the following items:
  • Verify that the 17-digit VIN numbers on the dashboard and doors match. Mismatched VIN numbers may indicate a stolen vehicle
  • Look for potential water damage such as new carpeting and upholstery, water lines on the engine and rust under the seats.
  • Search the ground underneath the parked vehicle for signs of fluid leaks.
  • Check all fluid levels to make sure they are at their recommended levels
  • Look for signs of a past accident, such as new paint or new panels
  • Tire condition

Never purchase a car without taking it for a test-drive to determine the general handling and whether there are any issues such as loose parts that are rattling (another potential indicator of a past accident). Further, a test drive can confirm for you that this is the type of car you want to purchase.

Ask the Seller

A few basic questions can give you a lot of information:
  • Why are you selling the car?
  • How many kilometres are on it?
  • Are there any needed repairs?
  • Has the car been in any accidents?
  • Has the car ever been flooded or declared a loss by an insurance company?
  • How many people have owned the car?


You should never purchase a used car privately without having a mechanic perform an inspection and to provide you with a written report of the inspection. If any repairs are required, ask the mechanic to provide a written estimate of these repairs. In certain provinces, you will be required to pass a mechanical inspection (and sometimes an emissions inspection) when a used car transfers ownership.

Independent Research

Depending on where you live, you may be able to get at least some of the following information from your province’s transportation department:
  • Mileage each time a car has been sold
  • Accident history
  • If the car has been sold in an auction
  • Previous owners and sale dates
  • If the vehicle was leased, a rental car or government vehicle
  • When the dealer took delivery
  • Any vehicle emissions inspection problems
  • Whether the car has been reported as stolen


Check with your provincial regulators about whether you are protected when purchasing a used car privately. In general, when purchasing a used car from a dealer, you will be protected by your provincial rules.

Verify any manufacturer's warranty that may still be in place, to see what it covers, how much longer it will last and whether it extends to new owners. You can often get this information by contacting the manufacturer directly. Completing the Purchase

It's especially important when dealing with a private seller to carefully document the sale before handing over your money. Your province may require that certain forms be completed in order to transfer ownership. If not, ensure that you use a bill of sale documenting all relevant information about the car (VIN number) and the seller

Rather than bringing cash to the sale (which is dangerous and can't be traced), use a bank draft. If the car turns out to be stolen, you can put a stop payment on the bank draft. It's important to get the car title and check the registration before giving the seller any money. If the seller can't produce the title, walk away from the deal, as something is very wrong.

The seller should record the mileage and the amount of the sale on the back of the title. Be sure to check his identity by asking for his driver's license. If the title shows a lienholder, make sure that you get an official record from the lienholder that there is no other amounts owing on the vehicle (otherwise, the seller might still owe the bank). You'll want to get any special equipment that comes with the car, such as wheel lug keys to unlock the lug nuts on the wheels.

Questions for Your Lawyer

  • I bought a used car from a private seller and the car stopped running after a week, do I have any legal recourse?
  • The used car seller showed me a title for the car I want to buy, but it lists a lien that isn't marked as paid off. How can confirm that lien's status?

Contact a Consumer Law Lawyer in your area for specific legal advice.
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