Buying an used car

How to avoid headaches when buying one.

By Rafael Padilha*

There is no doubt that buying your first car in Canada is an important step when you first arrive in the country. Buying a new car is certainly easier, but of course the costs are much higher which makes an immigrant to Canada only want to buy a new car when they have been in the country for a longer period of time. After all, how does one purchase a used vehicle economically and at the same time avoid problems in the future?

You can start by defining what type of car you want and don’t forget to take into consideration the costs of maintaining a used car. Keep in mind that even though some models have a reduced price, the price of maintenance and gas can make your operating budget very high. And don’t forget to make a list of options that are considered fundamental and those that are superficial.

With the list of models in your hand, visit your local public library and ask for the guide Lemon-Aid Used Cars by Phil Edmonston. Along with providing you with valuable information about the quality of the car you have in mind, the book shows you other car options with excellent durability and that might not have been on your initial list. Also take a look at the Canadian Red Book which compares prices of retail and wholesale cars which will help you in the next phase of your search – the ads.

Consult sites such as, and, and also independent dealer sites – make sure that these are members of accredited associations. In Ontario, the Used Car Dealers Association of Ontario offers more security to those who buy from the associated members.

Once you have selected the ads it is time to inspect the vehicles. Select a well illuminated location and inspect the vehicle from every angle, including the underside of the vehicle. Observe the paint, finishing and tires. Write down the identification number of the vehicle, normally located on the dashboard by the glass or in the motor compartment. Inside, take note of the kilometers on the speedometer and compare this to the overall state of the vehicle. Turn the car on and listen for strange noises, take a test drive and see how the suspension, motor and accessories are working. Ask the owner about the maintenance history, safety and emission certificates.

With the vehicle’s identification number in hand, access the sites and to see the car’s history. Seeing as this is low cost research, look up the vehicle on both sites. Any discrepancies with the car’s history on the sites should be treated with caution and discussed with the seller. If you are in Ontario, ask for the Used Vehicle Information Package which lists, with the Ministry of Transportation, all the information about the vehicle.

Depending on your experience, it is worth it to pay a mechanic or ask a friend, who knows about the subject, to take a look before you close the deal – especially if it is a private sale. From there it is off to the final offer and getting your licensing and insurance.

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* Rafael Padilha is an engineer and an eternal car aficionado.