10 Used Car Buying Tips
I’ve seen it time and time again. Customers will buy a car privately that “was just safety inspected two months ago”. Often they’ve driven 2 or 3 hours to find this great “deal”. They’ve gone so far and it’s such a great price that they rush into it, not wanting to miss out by having someone else buy it before them. They transfer the ownership and get a temporary plate sticker, planning to have it safety inspected as soon as they get it home. When the new owners finally bring it in for the inspection, it reveals that this great “deal” needs repairs and maintenance that often add up to more than they paid for the car in the first place! And, it may not even be worth repairing it to pass the safety!
That is exactly what happened to a customer that recently came in to see us after buying a 2009 Ford sedan. It was purchased privately from a guy who claimed it had “just been safetied a couple of months ago, so it’ll need nothing for safety inspection”. They even drove to Toronto to get this car, likely paying cash. They never really said what they paid for the car but I believe it was around $2500. The inspection revealed so many things wrong that the cost to get this car on the road was going to be almost $5000!!! They ended up scrapping the car. This was AFTER they’d already purchased it, transferred it to their name, paid the HST at Service Ontario, paid for insurance, not to mention their wasted time and gas money to go out of town and drive it back. Hopefully, they didn’t pay for an overnight hotel room to boot! Take a look at a copy of their inspection results and a good example of one of Car Medics’ digital inspection reports here.
So, what’s the best way to find and buy a good used car? Here are the top ten tips you can use to keep your hard-earned money in your pocket and not get swindled by some stranger telling you what you want to hear about a car that isn’t worth fixing.
#1 – If it sounds too good to be true, IT LIKELY IS!
After seeing thousands of cars come in to Car Medics over the past 30 years, our rule of thumb is that most cars that you can buy for less than $3000 often need at least $3000 worth of work! It’s a one in 10,000 chance that you’ll come across that perfect, well-maintained, hardly-driven car owned by an elderly person. So, be very cautious and don’t believe everything someone tells you about a car they are selling, it could just be a sales pitch.
#2 – Get the car checked out by a reputable repair shop BEFORE you hand over any money!
A good inspection prior to purchasing is worth its weight in gold. At the very least, it should pay for itself since there will be some maintenance and/or repair items that the inspecting shop will discover that will help you negotiate a lower price. Always have it looked over by a repair centre, like Car Medics, that will give you an unbiased opinion of the condition of the car. If you’re viewing a car out of town, contact us for a recommendation on where to have it checked out. We often know good repair shops in other cities and, if not, we can use our contacts to find a reputable one for you. As a last resort, you can take it to the car dealership for that particular type of car. So, if it’s a Honda you’re looking at, take it to the Honda dealership and so on. Just keep in mind that a car dealership may use this opportunity to try and make that used car seem worse than it actually is and try selling you one of their cars! This is why I prefer an independent repair shop to look at the car so that you get a truly unbiased opinion. And, I don’t recommend you go to the seller’s guy for this either. You just want to be sure the inspecting garage is working for you, not the seller. The best advice is to identify where you’ll get the inspection done before you even leave home. Pre-arrange it with the local shop and make sure the seller is aware of this before you go. If the seller doesn’t agree, follow tip #3.
#3 – If the seller is not willing to allow you to get the car inspected BEFORE you buy it, DON’T EVEN GO SEE THE CAR!
When they don’t agree to let you get it checked out, they are likely hiding something and know that the car either won’t pass safety or there’s something big wrong with it. Keep shopping!
#4 – Be wary of WHO you’re buying a car from.
Many backyard “car dealers” will pose as the current owner of a car. They will buy a car for cash from someone, fix it up and resell it without ever transferring it into their name first. They may have patched up a few things to make it worth more than they paid and now hope to pass the band-aided problems onto you for a quick profit. The government calls these people “curbsiders”. These guys can be smart, but sneaky. They’ll have the original owner sign the ownership and the bill of sale, while leaving all other areas blank and ready for YOUR NAME. Ideally, you want the guy you’re buying the car from to sign the documents in front of you, not before you get there. You don’t want to be involved in some shady deal. I recommend you ask to see their driver’s license (snap a photo of it if they’ll let you!) and be sure it matches the name on the ownership. If the names don’t match, I suggest not buying it. You could be in for some issues at Service Ontario when they discover who actually owns the car. This could make the bill of sale useless when it’s not signed by the real owner. Your cash will be gone and you will have no idea who you gave the money to!
#5 – Even if it comes with a valid Safety Inspection, get it inspected as per Tip #2!
Just as in Tip #2, you want to be able to choose the repair shop that checks the car out, not the seller’s buddy who safetied it for him. And, more importantly, safety standards are MINIMUM STANDARDS, not necessarily indicative of a car in perfect or even good condition. For example, while most new tires start out with 11/32” or 12/32” of tread, tire treads pass safety inspection with a mere 3/32” of tread remaining. This is the level of wear in which the tire reaches the “wear bars” and the point at which the manufacturer says the tire should be replaced. The tires may be safe today, but after a few month’s driving, they won’t be. Similarly for the brakes, most new brake pads start out with about 10mm of pad thickness but only 1.6mm are required to pass a safety inspection. We often recommend that our customers replace their brakes when they get down to less than 3mm. It’s just good to know how long things like brakes and tires will last when you first buy a used car, and you’ll only likely get the full story when you pay for the inspection yourself. A safety inspection is not a guarantee and only means the car is safe TODAY, not tomorrow or next week. When we perform a safety inspection (or any inspection for that matter), Car Medics will email you a digital copy of our inspection report, complete with photos and explanations of what needs to be done.
#6 – Figure out what you’re willing to pay before you start to negotiate!
Search comparable vehicles and what people are asking for them. The most important factor in what a similar car is worth is MILEAGE, not necessarily the options it may have. Once it’s inspected and you have a list of any deficiencies, you can adjust your offer accordingly. Keep in mind that a car for sale privately and one at a dealership will be worth different amounts of money. A car at a dealership is generally more expensive than a privately owned car for sale because the buyer has some recourse to go back to the dealership if something goes wrong. The private seller, on the other hand, is almost always off the hook once you drive away. So, as a buyer in a private deal, you’ve got to be pretty sure you want to be stuck with the car as soon as you hand over the cash. If you need some help understanding what a car might be worth to buy, contact us
#7 – Research common problems with the car you’re buying before you even go to see it.
Some cars have particular problems that make them cars you should stay away from. For example, it would be good to know that the car you’re thinking about buying has a high failure rate on the transmission. Just google the car’s name and add the words “common problems” or “complaints” and do some reading on it. And, just like any other reviews, remember to weed out the people that complain about everything. More importantly, Car Medics is a great resource for common faults and recommendations on what type of car not to buy. Simply contact us for advice anytime!
#8 – Don’t be in a hurry!
Most people rush into buying a used car. Do your research on price and reliability. If you’re in a hurry and need a car now, take someone else with you that will be less emotional about the purchase. If you don’t have anyone to go with you, contact Car Medics and we’ll give you some sound advice before you make a purchase.
#9 – Make sure the car you’re buying suits your needs, not just your pocket book.
You find a vehicle in the right price range, but it’s not exactly what you need. Perhaps a minivan is what you wanted but for the money you have, you can only find a 4 door car. If you buy the car, it may cost you more in the end because you may be inclined to trade it in and buy what you really need sooner rather than later. This will mean money wasted buying and selling the car that wasn’t right for you.
#10 – Don’t be afraid to say no and move on!
When something isn’t right, no matter how far you’ve driven or how many inspections you’ve paid for, just decline purchasing it and keep looking for the right car. You may have spent a lot of time speaking to the owner and now feel bad backing out, but remember it’s a business transaction, not a friendship. You don’t want to get stuck with the wrong car and have to pay too much money to fix it or even sell it again yourself!