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Making the Right Call on a Used Car

Buying a used car is daunting. A quick search online may reveal thousands of options, and unlike new vehicles, no two used cars are the same. While a pair of used vehicles may have the same equipment, the similarities stop there because of mileage, usage and maintenance. Lacking an in-depth look into a vehicle’s history and mechanical shape, it’s challenging to make the right call. With the average price of a used car floating around the $25,000 mark, it pays to cover all bases and take a few extra precautions before reaching for your wallet.


Vehicle History Report 

Once you find a car that you’re interested in, one of your first moves should be to verify its condition with a vehicle history report. These reports, effectively snapshots of a vehicle’s past, can be generated using a vehicle’s identification number (VIN) and will reveal a vehicle’s recall, accident, and theft history, along with a host of other important details. 

Getting a vehicle history report is an important first step in the pre-owned vehicle purchasing process. Buyers can get a quick and easy view into a vehicle’s past, compare it to other cars, and lowers the risk of selecting a car with hidden problems. 

Additionally, a vehicle history report will allow you to leverage vehicle buyback protections on qualifying vehicles if specific faults go unreported, such as an odometer rollback, salvage title issuance, or flood damage. Many dealers offer vehicle history reports for buyers to review. If the dealer you are working with doesn't, reports can be purchased on an individual basis or for unlimited VIN checks during a certain time period, and while they may cost a few dollars upfront, the perks and the past they alert you too can be invaluable. 


Thorough Inspection 

In addition to a vehicle history report, you’re going to want a trusted mechanic to inspect a vehicle’s condition. Everything may look clean and up-to-snuff, but a good mechanic will be able to spot sloppy repairs and can diagnose the overall health of a vehicle’s drivetrain, helping you avoid costly repairs in the future. 

Whether you take it to a shop or opt for a mobile inspection service, the inspectors will snap photos, check fluids, and examine the car from bumper-to-bumper, looking for interior and exterior damage like tears and dents that pull down a car’s value. More importantly, a vehicle inspector will also search for frame damage, replacement parts, unsafe welds, and faulty or missing safety equipment that could put you and your occupants at risk. 


Certified Pre-Owned 

For buyers who want a little extra security on their used car purchase, certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicles are a great option. CPO vehicles are late-model used cars that have been inspected and refurbished at a dealership, and as a result, carry an extended manufacturer’s warranty. 

Buying a CPO vehicle affords peace of mind in knowing that necessary repairs have been taken care of and that future repairs will be covered within the extended warranty period. Further, depending on the manufacturer’s program, these CPO vehicles are generally less than five years old and have fewer than 100,000 kilometres – a good start. Additionally, purchasing a car included in a manufacturer CPO program may qualify you for lowered finance interest rates and other incentives. 

However, all this security comes at a price. The extended warranty, cost of the inspection, and any needed repairs put CPO vehicles at a higher price point, sometimes thousands of dollars extra on what is still a used car. 


The Most Bang for the Buck 

To get the most out of your money, experts suggest the best time to buy a used car is at its three-year mark. The steepest part of the depreciation curve is already past, and most cars have drivetrain warranty coverage for between three and six years. You’ll still be protected against major component failures, assuming the car’s mileage isn’t past the coverage limit. 

Certified pre-owned vehicles may provide more protection still, with many offering up to six years of warranty coverage, but again this comes at a price premium. 


Does the Vehicle Tick All Your Boxes? 

It may be obvious, but when buying a used car, make sure the vehicle fits your lifestyle and needs. If you plan on pulling a trailer, be sure to check the vehicle’s tow rating. If you’ll be commuting long distances, ensure that the car’s fuel economy ratings meet your expectations. A vehicle’s reliability and crash safety ratings should also factor into your buying decision. 

Don’t forget to take a test drive either, and when you do, replicate normal driving conditions as best you can, including both city and highway speeds. Take into mind seat comfort, steering response, as well as suspension, engine and transmission performance, and even the quality of the stereo system and space in the trunk. Go for a test drive to learn the car’s strengths and weaknesses before you buy. 

When dealing with a private party in a potential purchase, ask the seller why the vehicle is being sold. You should also check to ensure the car has passed all provincial inspection and emissions tests and inquire about past maintenance records. If you aren’t pleased with the test drive or state of the vehicle, walk away-there are plenty of other used cars on the market, and it pays to shop around.  


Choosing the right used car isn’t easy but following the previously outlined steps will help you remove much of the angst from the process.  


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