Buying a used car in Alberta doesn’t need to be difficult, time consuming, or stressful. With some online research, good judgement, and a few helpful tips from your friends at Go Auto, you should be able to find a vehicle that works for your family, your lifestyle, and above all, your budget.
If you’re not very knowledgeable about the used car market or even what you’re looking to buy, that’s okay. There are all kind of resources online to help you figure out what you should be looking for, what your price range is, and whether or not you’re getting a good deal.
That’s what we’re here for! By the end of this article, you should have a pretty good idea about what you’re doing and will be able to start hunting for your next vehicle with confidence.
A Couple of Things You Should Know at the Start
Cars Come in As-Is Condition. Even when you buy a used vehicle at a dealership, the car will likely be sold in as-is condition. This means it will be in the same condition as it was when the customer traded it in. Flaws and defects will likely still be there (this is a used car, after all). However, some dealers we work with at Go Auto do a fair amount of “reconditioning” in an attempt to make the car as good-as-new as possible. So, if you’re looking at buying a used car in Alberta, and are dead set on quality, you’ve come to the right place.
Used Cars Require Inspections. If you purchase a used vehicle in another province, you are required by law to get an Out of Province Vehicle Inspection when you take it back to Alberta (if you reside here). Also, if you’re buying a vehicle that was previously written-off by an insurance company, the car will need to go through a Salvage Vehicle Inspection from a licensed inspection technician before re-registering.
Here is a list of inspection facilities in your area.
Things to Do Before Buying a Car in Alberta
Let’s be clear: you don’t need to do each of these things before starting the vehicle purchase process, but if you’re unsure about what you need to do or would like as much guidance as possible, these are all great things to consider.
- Set Your Budget. This applies to any car purchase, used or new. Before you start make sure you have a plan. You’re likely not made of money, so figure out what’s reasonable for you to pay every month (or in total, if you’re buying with cash). Typically, we advise customers to spend 15% of their monthly salary, or less, on their vehicle payment. If you’re spending more than that then you’re going to have a hard time affording your vehicle, especially when you factor in gas, insurance, service costs, etc.
- Use Online Resources. If you’re not sure if you’re getting a good deal or not, or if you have no idea what to expect in terms of vehicle pricing, feel free to consult Canadian Black Book. This is a tool that allows drivers to learn the estimated value of pre-owned vehicles. This value is based on sales data, auctions, brand equity, and the pricing of similar vehicles across Canada, so it’s pretty accurate.
- Check Cars for Liens. If you’re looking at a particular used vehicle, make sure it doesn’t have any liens on it. If a car has liens, this means that the previous owner still owes money on it (either for purchase or repairs). If you end up buying a car that has liens on it, you might be on the hook for those payments. Total bull, right? But this shouldn’t be something you need to worry about if you’re buying from a reputable dealer. If you go throughGo Auto to find a used vehicle, this is never something you’ll have to worry about. That being said, if you ever need to check for liens, just contact an Alberta registry agent and provide them with the vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
- Make Sure VINs Match. There are two places you can find the VIN for a car: on the dashboard ID plate and on the registration form. Make sure these match. If they don’t, something has been tampered with and you should get out of there. It’s likely that this is a stolen vehicle. Again, if you’re buying a car at a dealership you don’t have to worry about this (or if you go through Go Auto), but if you’re buying a vehicle through a private sale, make sure you do this.
- Check Out the Odometer. There are two good reasons to check on the odometer. The first is to find out how the car was used. Most people put between 15,000 and 30,000 KM on their vehicle every year. If a car has 150,000 KM on it and it’s only three years old, it’s been driven a ton in a short amount of time, and you might want to reconsider that purchase. Yes, it’s got only three years old, but it has the body of a seven-year-old vehicle. The second reason is to see if the odometer was tampered with. If the vehicle looks well-used, but only has 30,000 KM on it, it’s possible you’re being swindled. If you suspect the seller is lying, feel free to report them to the police. Odometer tampering is fraud.
- Buy the Vehicle During the Day. If you can manage to inspect the vehicle during the day, you should. This will give you enough light to properly inspect it for wear and tear. This is especially true with the interior, where cars are even darker.
- Request Receipts. If the seller claims that parts of the car have been replaced—the stereo, the seats, the tires, etc.—you have the right to request receipts for these things. Prove everything you can.
- Check the Tires. Not only should you check the tread on the tires to see how worn they are, but you should make sure the car comes with a spare, along with a car jack and a wheel wrench (so you can replace a tire if need be).
- Do a Quick Shocks Test. This one is kinda fun. Walk around to each corner of the vehicle and press down on it quickly, as hard as you can. The car should do a quick little bounce and then come to rest pretty quickly. If it doesn’t—if the car continues to bounce for a few seconds—then the shock absorbers need to be replaced. If that’s the case, you can do one of two things: have the seller replace them or get them to lower the cost of the car.
- Look for Dents, Scrapes, Rust, etc. This one is pretty obvious, but we thought we should include it just to keep a clear conscience. Remember that Black Book value we talked about earlier? Keep in mind that those expected prices were for vehicles in good condition. If you find some things about a vehicle that seem sub-par, negotiate the cost accordingly.
- Get a CarProof Statement. If you’d like to know about the vehicle’s service/repair/collision history, you can get the owner to provide you with a CarProof statement, which details all the work the vehicle has had done in the past.
- Ask About Warranties. Is the car still under its manufacturer’s warranty (likely he case if it has less than 60,000 KM on it, but some warranties go up to 100,000 KM). Did the previous owner buy an extended warranty? What exactly is covered under the warranty? If you’re buying from a dealership, ask about their extended warranty options, too.
If you’re still interested in the vehicle at this point, then the next step should ALWAYS be to…
Take the Vehicle for a Test Drive
Test drives should be non-negotiable. Never, ever buy a used vehicle (or even a new vehicle, for that matter) without taking it for a test drive.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Does the vehicle start right away?
- Does the vehicle idle comfortably once it warms up?
- Does everything on the console work?
- Do the gauges and dashboard lights work? Are any of them lighting up when they shouldn’t?
- Is the steering wheel stiff? Are there squeak or moans coming from the vehicle when you turn?
- Do the brakes squeak? Do they feel firm and stop the car in a comfortable time frame?
One of the most important things to do with a test drive is drive at different speeds (to check how it handles higher speeds and higher gears) and to drive on different road conditions. Most people just take a vehicle onto well-driven roads, like highways. Try to find a bumpier road to see how it handles it. Try to find a dirt road, if possible. Take it around tight turns, try to pass a vehicle, etc.
When buying a used vehicle in Alberta, put it through its paces. Don’t go easy on it. You’re going to need your vehicle in all of these scenarios, so make sure it can handle what you’re going to throw at it.
Final Considerations Before Buying a Used Vehicle
Before buying a used vehicle in Alberta, make sure that it has been inspected by a certified technician. If you’re buying it from a dealership, this is a no brainer. But if you’re buying privately make sure the seller has had it inspected prior to the sale (and make sure you get proof). A certified tech is someone who has been trained to work on that specific manufacturer’s vehicles. So if you’re buying a used Ford, make sure the tech works at a Ford dealership. Cross-brand inspections (having a GMC tech inspect a Ford vehicle) can lead to some mistakes, because these technicians don’t work with that brand every day.
If you checked the CarProof report and have found that the vehicle has been in collisions in the past, consider having a certified autobody technician look at the vehicle. If you suspect an issue with structural integrity, then you ought to have it looked at. If the car wasn’t rebuilt properly after a crash, some major issues are likely in your future.
If you put down a deposit on a vehicle you had planned to buy, know that the law does not require a seller to refund that deposit if you change your mind and decide not to purchase the car. So if you put a deposit down, make the seller promise to refund your deposit and get that promise in writing.
The Bill of Sale
Your bill of sale—the certificate that signifies the transfer of a piece of property, like a car—should include:
- The day you bought the car
- The seller’s name, your name, address, and identification
- The year, make (brand), model, and VIN of the vehicle
- The number of KM on the odometer
- The price of the vehicle and how it’s being paid for (cash, finance, lease)
- Any promises you would like in writing (warranties, issues with vehicle condition, etc.)
Mechanical Fitness Assessments are Mandatory at Dealerships
You might be able to find a lower price for used vehicles through private sales, but when buying a used car in Alberta it’s almost always better to purchase through a dealership. There’s just so much more oversight. It’s all above board. There are checks and balances throughout the entire process. In the end, you’re paying for peace of mind and security for your family.
A great example of one of these checks and balances is the new law that requires all used car dealers to have a licensed journeyman technician complete a Mechanical Fitness Assessment prior to selling you a car.
This assessment covers the vehicle’s powertrain, lamps, instruments, brakes, steering, suspension, diagnostics, frame, body, tires, wheels, battery, and more.
Things You Should Know
- A mechanical fitness assessment is only valid for 120 days. So, if the assessment on the car you want to buy is older than that, you have the right to request another one.
- There is no cost to the consumer during these assessments.
- You are also not obligated to purchase the vehicle after requesting another assessment, even if the assessment is positive.
- This mechanical fitness assessment rule also applies to vehicles purchased at brokers, consignment sales, and auctions.
Need Help Finding a Used Vehicle?
At Go Auto, we have a team of personal shoppers to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. This team will:
- Shop around at more than 40 dealerships to find what you’re looking for
- Compare prices from more than 11,000 vehicles to find you the best deal
- Compare vehicles with similar models to get the features you want
- Pre-approve you for financing
- Find the dealerships closest to your home or office
- Book your appointments
- And more
It’s not enough to just find a car at a certain price. At Go Auto, we make sure you get a car you LOVE at the price you need. This means finding you the right color, KM, and features you need. If you’d like to talk to us and see what your options are contact us.