10 things to watch for when buying a used car

10 things to take into consideration when you're buying a used car.

By Wheels Wheels.ca

May 20, 2011 4 min. read

Article was updated 13 years ago

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Buying a used car isn't always easy, but there are tips to help ensure a smooth process. There are never any guarantees, but certain warning signs should have you moving on to the next vehicle or, perhaps, another dealer.

Think about walking away if you notice any of these.

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1. An unlicensed dealer. All car dealers in Ontario must be registered with the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council. If the dealer won't show you proof of registration, move on. Visit omvic.on.ca or call 416-226-4500 or 1-800-943-6002 to see if a dealer is registered.

Dealers also contribute to a compensation fund that you may be able to access if you purchase from a registered dealer and suffer monetary loss.

Many are also members of the Used Car Dealers Association, which has a list of car-buying tips at ucda.ca, along with ways to identify 'curbsiders,' unregistered dealers masquerading as private sellers.

2. You can only examine the car at night or in bad weather. It's hard to see the car's condition properly. If it isn't available for a second look on a dry day, walk away.

3. Fresh undercoating. It can hide a multitude of sins. If the car has obviously been sprayed very recently, you might be buying problems lurking under it.

4. Bumpers and panels that don't line up. These can indicate a car that's been in a collision. Look for possible signs of repair, including areas that are a different colour, trim pieces that look newer than the rest, paint overspray, or ripples in the body.

5. No road test. Don't consider buying any vehicle that the seller won't let you take for a drive. Be wary if the vehicle needs to be boosted or otherwise worked on before it will start, especially if you're told that 'it started fine yesterday.'

6. Puddles and smells. All fluids should be on the inside. Sniff for antifreeze leaks under the hood, and for fuel leaks under the hood and near the tank.

7. Missing or incorrect paperwork. If you're buying the vehicle certified, examine the safety certificate. It cannot have any blank areas and the vehicle information number (VIN) must match that of the car.

Check the date of the safety. It expires after 36 days, weekends and holidays included. An unscrupulous seller might date it so it runs out shortly after you take delivery of the vehicle.

(Note that a safety only examines specific safety-related items, such as brakes, lights and steering . It isn't a warranty or guarantee, and doesn't cover non-safety items, such as a radio that doesn't work.)

If it's a private sale, the seller needs to provide a Used Vehicle Information Package, obtained from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, which you keep when you buy the car.

Make sure the seller's name matches that in the package. If not, you may be dealing with a curbsider.

The package will also tell you if the car was ever written off, if there are any outstanding liens against it, and if there is any reason why it can't be licensed.

Check the mileage on the package with the car's odometer to be sure it lines up.

Beware, too, if the seller can't provide the vehicle's service records, including maintenance and repairs.

8. The 'death rattle.' That's any rapping, tapping or banging sound coming out of the engine when it's running, especially when it's cold. Check the tailpipe; the exhaust shouldn't be blue or black, or smell of antifreeze. Pull out the oil dipstick, and pass on the car if the oil looks creamy-white, which can indicate an internal coolant leak.

9. An interior that smells 'too good' You can expect a clean, soapy smell if the interior was recently shampooed, but beware of too-heavy air freshener smells that could be masking cigarette smoke or mildew from water leaks.

10. A rush job. Beware the car that you have to buy right away, whether it's a private seller with a deadline such as moving away or selling it for a relative, or a dealer who says it's 'on special today' or 'it will be gone tomorrow.'

You can't expect to keep a seller waiting too long for your decision, but you should be able to give it some thought before you buy.

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