How to buy a used car in Toronto
By Vlad Samarin
I've helped many people with their used car purchases in Toronto and have some knowledge I wanted to share on this topic.
What you should know before shopping for a car in Toronto
1. You can buy a used car from a private seller, independent used car lot or a new car dealer. When you register a vehicle to drive in Ontario, you need to have at least the G2 driver's license, the proof of insurance, the vehicle must pass safety inspection and emission test. When you are buying a car from a registered dealer, usually the dealer does the safety and emission tests and registers a car for you, you will just need to provide a dealer with the proof of insurance. If you are buying a car from a private seller, you will have to register a vehicle yourself at one of the Driver and Vehicle License Issuing Office. Read more at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation website.
2. Before shopping for a used car, be aware, that if you come to a car dealer without having a good idea what kind of car you want and how much you want to spend, there will be a lot of confusion. At many dealership you are going to be offered to test drive more expensive cars and pressured to have the deal done right then and there. For this reason, decide in advance how much you want to spend and what kind of a vehicle you want to buy. Don't buy a car at the first visit to a dealer; take some time to weigh pros and cons. You always can come back tomorrow and the car you wanted will most likely still be there, or you can find another similar vehicle elsewhere.
3. Shopping for a used car takes time. If you need a car quickly, your best bet is to check local new car dealers; they always have good used cars on their lots, although they are usually priced higher. Best time to shop at a new-car dealership is the end of the month or quarter, when they want to move their inventory to reach their sales targets. Just search the Autotrader for a car you want and look for new car dealers.
4. Don't limit your search with Toronto and the GTA. Many of my friends and people I know ended up buying a used car somewhere outside of the GTA: Waterloo, Hamilton, Ajax, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, Cambridge, Newmarket are a just a few examples.
5. The safest way to buy a used car is from a registered dealer. When you are buying from a private seller, you won't have the same level of protection if things go wrong. Read more at the Ontario Ministry of Consumer Services website.
6. What you see in an ad is not always what you get. Some used cars have been restored after accidents (mostly in the lower price range). Once in a while there will be one with a rolled back odometer. Some cars may have an engine or transmission problem that might not be obvious during a test drive. A corrosion is a major problem in Ontario; some older cars are rusted badly underneath. Don't expect a dealer or a private seller to tell you about all the problems a car may have. Check the vehicle carefully yourself and if you like it, have it inspected by a mechanic or a used car inspection service before buying it.
Set your budget
A good start is to see what is your budget. On one hand, if you want a good used car it will not be cheap. On the other hand, you don't want to spend too much on something that will lose a lot of its value over few years. A good 3-5 year old used car is typically priced from around $13,000 to $18,000, plus 13% HST. The SUVs and premium minivans are priced a bit higher. Of course, if the budget is tight, you still can find a used car in a decent shape even for under $5,000, but usually it will be somewhere outside of Toronto and it will be an older high-mileage car. Often, you can find some not very expensive car advertised by a private seller, again, most likely outside of Toronto, but if it's a good deal, it will be sold quickly.
Decide what car do you want
Determine what features and options you really need. If you like long weekend trips up north, you may want a car with a cruise control; some small cars don't have this option. Do you really need a 4WD? - most of the time the snow is cleared from the roads in a timely manner. Are you going to have long commutes? - you probably need something cheap on gas. Of course, you want a used car that is also has a good reputation for reliability.
To register a vehicle in Ontario, it must be insured with at least third party liability coverage. If it's your first car in Canada, the insurance will be costly; ask friends who were in a similar situation: which insurance company did they use and how much was the premium. Read more about Licensing a Vehicle in Ontario. It's a good idea to check insurance quote for a vehicle you want in advance. You can check the insurance quotes online at:
PC Financial Insurance
Where to search for a used car
The best website to search for a used car is the Autotrader.ca. If you click Advanced Search, it allows you to search using a price range, year range, kilometers and transmission type. You can also check kijiji.ca and toronto.craigslist.ca, but watch out for scam ads. If the ad looks too good to be true, or the seller is out of country and can only be contacted by e-mail, or you are asked to wire money over the internet or the car has to be shipped from somewhere, or anything like that, it's probably a scam. This tips from Craigslist how to avoid scams. You want to deal with a seller in person, locally and you want to see the car you want to buy first. Another thing, there are plenty of 'bad' used cars out there, especially in the lower price range. If you are searching for a certain car in the Autotrader, and you find this year and model cars are priced, for example, from $9,999 to $18,000, don't expect to find anything good in the lower side of this price range. From my experience, in this case you might find something decent starting from about $12,500 to $14,000 range.
Buying a used car from a dealer
If you found the ad you like, call first. Ask what other fees are involved and what is the total price 'on the road' with taxes and everything included. I noticed some used car dealers advertise lower prices but once you are ready to make a deal, some 'non-negotiable administration fee' or something like this comes up. At some places it was as high as $799. Before coming, ask if the vehicle is available for a test drive. In some places they would ask you to pay a deposit to take a car for a test drive. New car dealers are usually easier to deal with in that sense.
Dealing with dealers
Most new and used car dealers are easy to deal with, but there are places where they can be really pushy. If you feel pressure, leave. It really helps you have a friend with you. If you need to think things through, don't hesitate to take a break and discuss the deal with your friends or other people. Prices are negotiable almost at every dealership. With favorable conditions, you can get anywhere from a few hundreds to a couple of thousands discount. New car dealers are usually more flexible in price, especially at the end of the month. The way it works, you give your lower offer, the salesperson comes back with the counter offer and eventually you meet somewhere in the middle. The competition works really well: if you found a few cars that you are interested in at different places, let each dealer know that you have options. Don't hesitate to leave when things don't work out; you always can come back tomorrow or visit another dealer. Many dealers are open late hours. When discussing issues with the car that will have to be addressed before the sale, get it in details, in writing. For example, If the tires need to be replaced, discuss what kind of tires will be installed, cheap ones or the good ones.
What to ask a private seller
Is the price negotiable? If so, ask how far he (she) would go down.
Has there been any accidents? What is the condition of the car body? Rust spots? Scratches? Has the car been rust proofed? - Corrosion is a major problem in Ontario.
Any major repairs had been done (e.g. rebuilt engine or transmission)? - the less, the better; a good car is not the one that has been repaired; it's the one that hasn't been broken.
Was the vehicle serviced regularly and where was it serviced? Are there any service records? - many owners keep oil change receipts so you can verify if the car has had regular oil changes.
When did seller bought this car?
Emission test and safety certificate?
If the car will not have the safety certificate and (or) the emission test passed, you will have to get them by yourself before registering a car. Sometimes, it might be a big headache.
When he (she) bought the car and why does he (she) sell it? Maybe the car was bought a month ago, fixed and now being sold to you or the owner is tired fixing it, that's why he (she) wants to sell it - Ask about legal aspects - if there is no liens, etc. Make sure you deal with the person who owes the car and the ownership is on his (her) name.
How to transfer the ownership of a car buying privately
You can find all the information about this in the Ontario Ministry of Transportation web site.
Or you can go directly to this page:
Buying, Selling or Transferring Used Vehicles in Ontario
A private seller should buy a Used Vehicle Information Package at any Ministry of Transportation Office. It contains all the information you need:
1. Details of the car and its current wholesale value.
2. Current registrant of the vehicle, so you can check that the seller is the actual owner of the car.
3. Vehicle history (what is available)
4. Liens information to date of issue of the package
5. Bill of sale that both the seller and the buyer should sign.
Make sure you read the package very carefully; it has all the steps.
Once the deal is done, the seller should remove his (her) plates and give you a completed Used Car Information Package, completed vehicle portion of the title, safety certificate and emission test papers (If you've agreed that the seller should provide them). You can register the car at any Driver and Vehicle License Issuing Office.
Find nearest to you Driver and Vehicle Licence Issuing Office
You should bring with you:
1. Completed and signed Used Car Information Package
2. Completed and signed by the seller vehicle portion of the title (permit)
3. Proof of insurance,
4. Safety certificate
5. Emission test printout
6. Your ID
7. Your plate portion of the title if you already have plates.
All payments (registration fee, tax, etc.) can be made right there.