Ultimate Used Car Buying Guide – Canadian Edition

Buying a used car makes all the sense in the world – but only if you do it right. Remember this is usually the second biggest purchase you’re going to make after a house. You want to do it right. A little planning and diligence can go a long away to having a great ownership experience with a car that you can rely on for the long run.

The other option is to ignore my advice, take your chances and hope you don’t end up with a nightmare on elm street that will cost you thousands in repair costs and leave you stranded every chance it gets.

Trust me – I see this happen all the time.

It’s the wild wild west out there in the used car market but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

I’ve been in the business of used cars for years – not professionally but as a hobby because I love it so much. It also helps that inspect thousands of used cars yearly.

From Honda Civics to Aston Martin’s – I’ve bought and sold them all so over the years I figured out what works and what doesn’t. In this guide I’ll show you how to increase your odds that you find a vehicle that’s right for you.

Notice how I said increase the odds because nothing is bullet proof and there will always be a risk buying used.

To get started, this guide has 3 parts:

  1. Researching What Car to Buy
  2. Inspecting your Used Car Pick
  3. Negotiation & The Buy

The Research Stage

This is the best part of buying a car – figuring out what to buy. There are so many options for cars it can seem overwhelming, but the following should narrow it down:

1) What’s your budget?

2) This is a point A to point B car?

3) Do you care how flashy the car is?

4) Do you care about gas mileage or horsepower?

5) How many doors?

6) Do you want a sporty fun to drive car or a more luxurious drive?

7) Depreciation Factor. Buy a car that you can sell after you’re done with it. It’s your most expensive cost.

Based on those questions you’ll be able to narrow down what car to buy that best suits your needs. Based on my very personal opinion – if I was in the market for a car I would look at the following:

a) Point A to Point B car: Toyota Camry or Honda Civic. Late model Kia’s are also fine as well.

b) Flashy car: Infiniti G37 or G35. A 2009-2013 BMW M3 will hold its value like no other.

c) SUV: Toyota 4Runner – they’re terrible on gas but they hold their value for years and are fantastic.

d) Truck: Toyota Tacoma – based on the same platform as the 4Runner. These are bullet proof vehicles.

Note: Stick to a car in your budget but the above cars are excellent regardless of the year.

Private Seller Vs. Dealership

You will have two options on who to buy your car from – a private seller or dealership. A private seller is an individual like you who is selling their vehicle while the dealership is a business.

When it comes to a private seller (in Alberta), you don’t have to pay any taxes. This can be a big deal depending on how much you’re spending on a car.

With private sellers you can usually get a better deal if you know what you’re doing. Most private sellers aren’t astute negotiators and don’t have a solid understanding of the market. If you feel like you have an advantage in these areas this is a perfect place to find a car but there is a risk.

Private owners can get irrationally emotional with their vehicles leading to complicated negotiations. On top of that there isn’t any recourse if you buy the car and it’s awful. You have to do a lot more diligence because you can’t go back to them after selling the car.

With dealerships, you’re dealing with professionals who don’t get emotionally tied up in the negotiation process. This can make the negotiation process smoother but you’ll end up paying more for your vehicle. Having said that, dealerships can provide other services like financing and more.

Places to Look For a Used Car

The best places to look for a used car in Canada are:

Kijiji (Alberta and Ontario)

Craigslist (British Columbia, Ontario)

Facebook Marketplace (A lot of hidden gems)

AutoTrader (the obvious, mostly dealers though)

Letgo (it’s not as established but worth a shot)

The above are where you’ll find the majority of your deals and they’re easy to work with. Yes, you can go through the classifieds of your newspaper but that’s dying now and a waste of time.

You can also go to an auction to look for used vehicles. There are some that require a dealer’s license but there are others that don’t. You can even try look out at police auctions but I have to warn you – these auctions are extremely risky. You can find a great deal there but without the ability to properly inspect the vehicles it’s not be worth it.

Inspecting Your Used Car

Now after spending countless hours scouring Kijiji and Craigslist you found a car you want to look at.

Great – now the painful part starts.

Throughout this entire process be willing to walk away and not fall in love with the car. This is can be the critical mindset where you will either end up with a wonderful car that you love or a nightmare.

I recommend you approach this part depending on what’s more valuable in your life. If time is limited then you should send a mechanic to inspect the vehicle first, then do the CarProof and then look at if yourself.

If money is limited then look at the vehicle yourself first, get the CarProof and then call a mechanic to inspect it. We have a guide here on how to inspect a used car yourself.

When you get in touch with the seller it’s important to book the viewing during the day – at night way too much can be missed. I know a lot of sellers are busy at work and if that’s the case then you should call instaMek to send a mechanic during the day to do the inspection.

Here’s what to look for when you see the car:

Is the car as described?

Did the seller make you believe the car was in much better shape than what you’re seeing? Ignore the fact that it’s dirty but look for other things like body damage.

Inspect the exterior for rust and body damage.

Make sure to look for rust bubbles on the corner of the panels, especially near the wheels and trunk. Also look underneath the car as much as you can for rust.

Check tires and wheels –

How much thread on the tires? What’s the condition of the wheels – check for scuffs and other marks. Look for accident damage by looking at the paint of the vehicle – do you see any places where it could have been repainted? Look at the fenders and pillars for this.

Check the interior

Does the wear on the interior make sense for the mileage on the vehicle. If the vehicle has 50,000 km on it and the dashboard and seats are worn out with cracks, then that would be a red flag. The smell of smoke should be used to take the price down of the vehicle but not a deal breaker. Check to see all the electronics work, the windows and especially check on the key fob/security system. A security system would have to be fixed by a professional auto locksmith or dealership.

Look under the hood

What you’re looking for there are leaks and to see if anything is broken. Look at the connections, and fluid containers to see if there are any cracks or leaks.

Test drive it COLD –

Now it’s time to drive the car and see how it runs. You want to make sure that the car is started cold and the seller hasn’t been driving it before. This is very important because a lot of problems (noises, shaking etc) happen when the car is cold.

Plan your route –

When you take your vehicle for a spin, make sure to take the car on city streets and highways to get the full range. Make sure to accelerate fast and brake hard, even take it over rough roads if you find them. You want to make sure the car can handle anything before you buy it. It’s also important to keep the radio off. You’re supposed to be on the look out for weird noises.

Transmission –

When the car switches gears look out for clunking noises or hesitations. These can be warning signs that the transmission needs to be looked into – also be on the look out for grinding noises.

Alignment –

You want to make sure the steering is aligned so while you’re driving take your hands off the steering wheel. Does the car veer to a certain side? If yes then the car might need an alignment or the tires need to be looked into. Also, press the brakes hard without holding on to the steering wheel – does the car veer to one side or another? If yes, then the brakes might need to be looked into as well.

Service Records ­

It’s ideal to have the vehicles service history because you know the car was well taken care of. This might be difficult to get if you buy a car from a dealership versus a private seller.

The most important record though is the timing belt if your car has one. If you don’t have a record for a timing belt replacement and it’s past 120,000 km – 140,000 km you should get one. Depending on the type of engine you have (interference vs non-interference) it can mean the death of your engine.

CarProof Report

Once you’re happy with your initial inspection of the vehicle – it’s time to look into the history of the car. A CarProof report will give you the registration history of the vehicle, it’s accident history and if there is a lien on the vehicle.

In Canada, I recommend you get a CarProof report instead of CarFax. The information in CarFax is not complete for Canadian cars while CarProof is.

The Inspection

Now that you’ve had the chance to take a look at the vehicle yourself and it’s history – now it’s time to hire a professional mechanic to take a look at it. You have two options here, you can organize a time with the seller to book the vehicle in at a mechanics shop to get it inspected. This can be difficult to do for obvious reasons.

The other option is to call instaMek and book a pre-purchase inspection with them. instaMek will contact the seller to schedule a time and then send out a certified mechanic to inspect the vehicle on-site.

After the inspection is completed, you will get an email copy of the report with a quote for how much work the vehicle needs.

You can use the mechanics report to enter the next stage of the process – the negotiation.

The Negotiation

This is my favorite part of the whole process and I take it very seriously. However, my tactics are very gray area so not the best to share online. To keep things simple this is what I recommend:

1) The one who cares less wins – so act like you care less.

2) Don’t actively point out the cars flaws or nit pick every little detail, that might offend owner. Just never look impressed while looking at the vehicle or show any excitement in your voice

3) Say things like “Based on the other vehicles I’m looking at this vehicle is missing X, Y and Z” or “I really liked the car last saw but I think this could work if X, Y, or Z were true”.

4) Remember the price the seller set is an anchor – you’re supposed to counter with a price that’s about 10-20% below what you’re willing to pay and then inch up. Some people enjoy the process of going back and forth so be prepared.

5) One thing to remember – if the car is priced low and you know it then don’t bother negotiating for the sake of it! You can lose an easy buy this way so make sure you come prepared.

After Buying

Now that you’ve bought your “new to you” car – congratulations! If you’ve followed all the steps above then you should be in a car that’s made for you and reliable for a long time to come!

Remember, regular maintenance, even though it’s easy to skip is super important. You will save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the vehicle by following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. We’ve seen cars up to 500,000 or 600,000 km run fine by making sure they’re well maintained.

If lack of time is what’s stopping you from servicing your vehicle then we have the solution for you.

Yes that’s right, call instaMek and we will send a mechanic to your home or office to service your vehicle. There are no excuses for not taking care of your vehicle!

Good luck and if you have any questions feel free to reach out to me by email uzair@instamek.com or call 1-888-507-3435.