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Victoria Buying, Selling or Leasing Cars - Used Cars - Initial Car Evaluation



If your car knowledge is limited, find a mechanic or friend who is vehicle-savvy. Ask or pay him/her to accompany you to the car lot. Have these key items checked before you make a deposit:

  • Check for liens & loans. A lien usually means that a previous owner still owes money on the car for purchase or repairs. If you buy a car with a lien, you may be responsible for it. To check for a lien, contact with Provincial Consumer Affairs (in Alberta, any registry agent). Typically you will need to provide the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN),and the current owners' name and address would be helpful.

  • Make sure the VIN on the dashboard identification plate matches that on the vehicle registration form, and that it has not been tampered with, which may indicate a stolen vehicle. Look for are loose or mis-matched rivets, scratched numbers, screws in place of rivets, tape, glue or paint over the VIN plate. Have a licensed mechanic compare against the VIN numbers on the doorpost and engine firewall.

  • Check the vehicle odometer reading. An average vehicle accumulates 16,000 to 25,000 kilometres per year. Be aware if the vehicle shows particularly low kilometres for its age, or if wear & tear is not consistent with the vehicle's odometer reading. If you believe the odometer has been tampered with, report it to the police because odometer tampering is a criminal offence.

  • Inspect the vehicle in daylight. Check carefully for excessive wear of the interior upholstery, the seats, brake and accelerator pedals, and trunk upholstery. New pedals may indicate a lot of vehicle use. Squealing brakes under normal operation can mean excessive wear or improper adjustment.

  • Inspect the car body for dents, signs of rust, ripples or signs of repainting which might indicate recent bodywork. Scan down the sides of the vehicle. Ripples on the body of a vehicle suggest that bodywork has been done and that the vehicle could have been in a collision. Look for uneven paint colours, signs of secondary spray paint (uneven paint finish), u signs of rusting or covered-up rust, and uneven gaps between doors and trunks and the body. Check open doors for indications of secondary spray paint.

  • Avoid cars that had been rusty and then repaired. Any rust tends to reappear again.

  • Look at the front and back ends. if the fenders don't have an even reflection, or they are rusted may indicate a prior accident. Check the front and bank hoods/trunks or doors. Check the gaps for evenness, check the hinges for rust or damage.

  • Check under the car carpet for moisture or rust, which may indicate that this car has been flooded. Avoid such a car.

  • If the seats, stereo and tires have been replaced with after-market equipment, request vendor receipts for these items to verify that they are not stolen items.

  • Evaluate the condition of the tires (should be even wear across each tire). Check the trunk for spare tire, jack and wheel wrench.

  • Press down each corner of the vehicle and release. It should come to rest quickly. Continued bouncing indicates that the shock absorbers may need replacing.

  • Ask about the vehicle's collision history and request a written statement that summarizes collision information.

  • Ask about warranty. Any warranty that is offered with the sale of the vehicle should be expressed in writing. The warranty should state exactly what is covered, who is providing the warranty and whether it includes both parts and labour. If the warranty covers "all major components," ask for a definition of what all major components are.

If you're still interested in the car, take it for a road test and check that the:


  • Vehicle starts immediately and idles smoothly once it's warm.

  • All engine gauges and warning lights work and the steering doesn't stiffen up or bind. With power steering, there should be no squeaks or moans.

  • Brakes should feel firm. If brakes pull to one side, this may indicate a problem with alignment (maybe due to a prior accident)

Test drive the car at different speeds on different road conditions to help you better evaluate the performance of the vehicle's steering, brakes, shock absorbers and front-end alignment. Lack of control during cornering at normal speeds or an excessively bouncy ride can mean steering linkage problems and/or worn-out shock absorbers.

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