Vehicle Purchase

Buying a vehicle — either new or used — can be a big thrill; however, there are many things to consider before making a purchase.

General Tips

Before you start looking for a car, van or personal-use truck, think about what you need. Keep in mind the distances you typically travel, the road conditions (highways versus unpaved roads) and the types of loads you carry. No matter how good the vehicle looks, you'll end up unhappy if it doesn't do the job you need it to do.

Don't forget that the cost of driving includes maintenance, parking, insurance and fuel, all of which should figure into your budget. In major urban centres, many Canadians find that renting a car only when they need one is more cost-effective than buying a car. A number of Canadian cities have car-sharing programs that, for a fee, allow participants to have access to vehicles parked in various locations. The fees are based on distance driven and time.

Remember that the contract you sign with a dealership or used vehicle seller is binding. As soon as both sides have signed, the seller is usually not obliged to let you out of the contract if you change your mind. There may be no cooling-off period. Check what the policy is in your area before making any purchases.

Choosing a Dealer

Take the time to check potential dealers and always comparison shop. Each dealer may offer you a different combination of price and options on the same make and model. Options are generally sold in packages, which are often predetermined by the car maker. Dealers may try to sell you add-ons like rust proofing, fabric and paint protection, anti-theft and extended warranties. When you buy near the end of the model year (typically the late spring or summer), you may not be able to get all of your choices in terms of vehicle colour, etc.

Unfortunately, high-pressure sales tactics are still a problem. Don't let yourself be talked into buying a vehicle that you don't want or can't afford. If you're not satisfied, walk out.

Comparing Prices

Certain non-profit consumer organizations such as the Automobile Protection Association provide their members with important information and services, such as the list prices that dealerships pay for new vehicles. This may be helpful to know when you are negotiating the selling price of a vehicle. Note that consumer organizations may require a one-time membership fee to access these services, and/or additional user fees but it may be money well invested if the information you have obtained allows you to negotiate a lower price for the vehicle. Consumer Reports and Protégez-Vous (in French only) are also good sources of information when shopping for a vehicle.

Should You Lease or Buy?

Carefully consider whether to buy or lease. You can't beat an outright purchase paid in full, but few people today can afford to pay cash in full for a vehicle. You may instead choose to finance the purchase of the vehicle or choose to lease a vehicle rather than buy. Whatever you decide, read the contract carefully. The difference in interest rates and down payments may surprise you. To help you decide which option is best for you, try to determine the total price you will have paid at the end of the loan or lease. Consider not only monthly payments, but get the dealer to disclose all upfront charges. Take a look at the Vehicle Lease or Buy Calculator, which is designed to give you a comparison of the costs of various vehicle ownership options.

Buying a Used Vehicle

When buying a used car, you can opt to purchase from a dealer or from a private seller. Either way, make sure you have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle and make sure you test drive the vehicle before you buy. Always check the vehicle’s history – note that there is usually a cost associated with this. Sometimes maintenance records are available, so ask to see them.

Buying from a Private Seller

Ask where they had the car serviced and ask to see service records if they have them. 

If buying a used car from a private seller, some provinces require that the seller provide a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP). This package contains:

  • vehicle registration history, including all present and previous owners as well as the municipality of residence;
  • odometer information;
  • vehicle lien information (i.e., if there are any liens registered on the vehicle);
  • the fair market value (Red Book) on which the minimum tax payable will apply;
  • consumer tips;
  • vehicle safety standards;
  • inspection information;
  • retail sales tax information; and
  • forms for bill of sales.

Contact your provincial or territorial ministry of transportation to see if these packages are required in your area.

Buying from a Dealer

If buying a used vehicle from a dealer, ask if they have accessed the vehicle’s history and if you can have a copy.

Educate yourself on the cost of the vehicle by doing some comparison shopping. Search through the Auto Trader in your region or look at pricing from the Canadian Red Book Vehicle Valuation Guide or the Canadian Black Book.

Curbsiders

Curbsiders are sellers who pose as private sellers, but are actually unlicensed dealers. They specialize in off-loading substandard vehicles with tampered odometers or poorly repaired vehicles. Watch out for multiple ads with the same phone number. There is no recourse against a curbsider. You may think you are getting a good deal, but more than likely you will end up with a problem vehicle.

What can a Vehicle Identification Number Tell You?

A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a unique serial number consisting of 17 characters used by the auto industry to identify individual vehicles. To get a used car’s vehicle history you will need to provide the VIN, which is located on the dashboard on the driver’s side of the car and is usually visible through the windshield. Many used car advertisements give the VIN.

Remember that even if the vehicle history comes back clean it may have been in an accident that wasn’t reported. Always get the car checked by a mechanic you trust.

Solving Problems After a New Vehicle Purchase

You have different options to get redress depending on the type of problem you may have with your vehicle.

If you have a problem with a new vehicle, first try to work it out with the dealer. If your problem is related to a manufacturer's defect in assembly or material or how the manufacturer is applying or administering its new vehicle warranty, and you cannot resolve the issue with the manufacturer directly, you can use the services of the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan (CAMVAP).  This plan provides binding arbitration that may be an alternative to court. If the problem you are having with your vehicle is related to an issue of misrepresentation at the point of sale, you can contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office.

The organizations listed in the “contacts for this topic” tab at the top of this page can help you if you are having difficulty resolving your problem, or if you have other vehicle-related information questions.

If you cannot resolve the complaint, consider fixing the vehicle at your own expense and using the Small Claims Court to recover the cost of repairs or to rescind the contract. If you decide to proceed with this option, you should obtain legal advice first and bring an independent mechanic with you in cases where the dealer and you do not agree on facts related to the condition of the vehicle.

Every so often someone buys a vehicle with a manufacturer’s defect (sometimes refered to as a ‘lemon’) that may affect its safety, use or value. If you think your vehicle has a factory defect, check with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office to see whether they can help.  CAMVAP provides binding arbitration that may be an alternative to court. The Office of Consumer Affairs’ information sheet on “lemons” is another source of information.

Environmentally Responsible Consumer Tip:

You can conserve energy, save money and help save the environment when running your vehicle. Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency has developed information products to inform you about choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle and about fuel-efficient driving practices, vehicle maintenance, idling and vehicle fuels.

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