How to Buy a Used Car or Truck in Alberta

One of the more common questions I get asked is about buying used vehicles. If you’re currently planning on buying a used car in Alberta, the last thing you want to do is rush your decision. Making a hasty, uninformed decision can lead to a wide variety of issues down the line. That’s why I’ve put together this procedure for buying a used car in Alberta. Use the procedures and do it like a pro!

Choose a Car, SUV or Truck That’s Right for You

  1. Decide on Your Budget. Naturally, one of the main considerations when you’re buying a car, new or used, is cost. And although it’s fun and exciting to start car shopping, financial experts advise that you decide on a budget first. A rule of thumb is that all your vehicle expenses should not exceed 10-15% of your take-home income
  2. Consider Your Lifestyle. Buying a used cars in Alberta could be your first big deal, it’s important to think carefully about what type of vehicle is best for you. Do you need a compact car that gets great mileage? A pickup truck or SUV for hauling sports gear, musical instruments, or lumber around town? Or just a reliable sedan to get you to and from work, your friends’ houses, and the shopping mall?
  3. Think About What You Really Need. Now, turn your attention to the bells and whistles. If you can live without amenities like a rear camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, voice commands, or dual-zone automatic climate control, then you’ll be able to shave quite a bit of money off your investment.
  4. Check out a list of amenities and ask yourself which ones you really need, and which aren’t as necessary.

Your Choices to Purchase the Vehicle From

You can buy a used car from a dealership, private seller, friends or family, or online broker in Alberta. The provider you go with does NOT affect the process you need to follow to carry out your purchase.

  1. Dealer. You’ll usually pay more if you shop with a dealer because there’s less risk involved, and it can be more convenient.
  2. Private seller. You may pay less with a private seller, but it can take more time to compare cars and there’s a higher chance that you’ll end up with a lemon.
  3. Broker. You can easily compare prices with an online broker, but it may be more difficult to know if you’re shopping with a legitimate seller when you settle on a price.
  4. Friend or family. Same rules apply as above

Check the Vehicle History

Vehicle history. An automotive business operator must disclose vehicle history in writing to the consumer before purchase. This includes answers to the following:

  1. Was the vehicle ever bought back by the manufacturer?
  2. Was the vehicle ever damaged by fire?
  3. Was the vehicle ever damaged by flooding?
  4. Was the vehicle ever used as a police or emergency vehicle?
  5. Was the vehicle ever used as a taxi or limo?
  6. Was the vehicle ever owned by a vehicle rental business or used as a rental vehicle?
  7. Was the vehicle ever declared a salvage vehicle in Alberta, or the equivalent under another jurisdiction?
  8. Was the vehicle ever declared a non-repairable vehicle in Alberta, or the equivalent under another jurisdiction?
  9. Was the vehicle ever declared an unsafe vehicle in Alberta, or the equivalent under another jurisdiction?
  10. Was the vehicle ever in need of repairs that cost more than $3,000 including parts and labour due to an incident or collision? If yes, the total cost to complete the repairs.
  11. Was the vehicle previously registered in a different jurisdiction immediately prior to the business operator acquiring it? If yes, name the province/country.
  12. If the vehicle was registered in another jurisdiction immediately prior to the business operator acquiring it, was it required to be inspected prior to being registered in Alberta? If yes, did the vehicle pass or fail any inspections?

Questions You Can Ask The Seller of a Vehicle Before Viewing It

When you contact the seller, here are a few things you can ask.

  1. Ask for history repairs and maintenance done to the vehicle. Does the owner have any invoices? 
  2. Ask if the vehicle was involved in any collisions.
  3. Ask how long they owned the vehicle.

Take precautions to protect yourself. Research the process and potential risks of buying used vehicles.

  1. Check reliable resources, such as the Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) for information about purchasing used vehicles in AlbertaAblerta.
  2. Make sure the seller has valid ID and proof that they own the vehicle.
  3. Contact a registry agent or AMA to get a vehicle information report, which describes the vehicle’s registration history in Alberta. Get a personal property lien search from a registry agent, based on the vehicle’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). A Carfax vehicle history report is also recommended.
  4. Liens. A lien on a vehicle is when a creditor lends money to a debtor taking the vehicle as security. This means that if the debtor defaults on the loan payments, the creditor has a right to repossess the vehicle and sell it to recover the money owed. It is best practice for an automotive business selling a vehicle to pay out any liens prior to a consumer purchasing it, however it is always worth checking on the lien status before purchasing a vehicle. AMVIC-licensed businesses must pay out all liens on a vehicle within seven days after it is sold to a consumer.

What to Look for When Taking the Vehicle on a Road Test

Next you want to try to car out to see what it’s like to drive. Here are some things to look for.

  1. Take notes of any warning lights staying on.
  2. Take notes of any abnormal noises on a cold start-up and when hot at higher speeds 
  3. Abnormal smoke from the exhaust tail pipe.
  4. Inspect the car body for dents, signs of rust, ripples or signs of repainting which might indicate recent bodywork. Another tip I suggest is look at the body lines. Does the hood and fenders have equal spacing? Any of these signs suggest that bodywork has been done and that the vehicle could have been in a collision.
  5. Vehicle interior. Look for damage to the upholstery, trunk, and dash.
  6. Tires. Make sure the tires have tread and are in good condition.
  7. Engine, brakes, and steering function. Check that the engine runs smoothly and the car brakes and turns easily.
  8. Electrical systems. Make sure all the electrical systems are working properly, including lights, power windows, sunroof, heated seats, power locks and more.
  9. Heating/cooling systems. Verify that air conditioning and cooling systems work.
  10. Confirm that miscellaneous parts are in good working order including wipers, gauges, speedometer, odometer, and radio.

Get a Pre-Purchase of Safety Inspection

Get a Pre-Purchase or Safety inspection of the vehicle from a reliable and trusted vehicle inspection facility. ALWAYS. It does not matter who you are buying the vehicle from, everyone has good intentions. But do they really know the current health of the vehicle? 

Fill in the Bill of Sale for the Vehicle

The documents required when buying a used car in Alberta varies between private sellers and dealerships. Buying a used car in Alberta from a private seller. You’ll need a standard bill of sale, which is an original document that certifies the transfer of property. The bill of sale must include:

  1. The buyer’s and seller’s name and address
  2. The vehicle identification number (VIN)
  3. Make, model/series, style, colour, and year
  4. Cost of the car
  5. Signature from the buyer and seller