How to Buy a Used Car

As many of you may know if you read regularly, my car broke down on my way back from a weekend in Thunder Bay in July. It is dead, I knew she was dying (her name was Phoebe), but I was really hoping she would make it to Christmas, I could drive it home (where there are more options for cars) and where my brother could piece it out for me and I could probably have made a decent chunk of change on the parts but now I’m being offered trades for it on Facebook Marketplace and had to figure out how to buy a car for the first time with only frequent phone calls to my dad to help me figure out what questions and what tasks needed to be done.

So, if you don’t have a parent to call for whatever reason, or you just want another source of advice, here is what I learned about how to buy a used car.

Disclaimer: I live in Ontario, Canada, and I bought my car from a used car dealership. If you are in another location or you are doing a private sale these may not all apply to you or there may be other things you need to do/ask.

Test drive, test drive, test drive. If you are getting a used car driving it is one of the best things you can do to figure out if there is anything going on. Find a bumpy road and drive down it fast, listening for rattling. Get on the highway and go fast, slam on the brakes. Then pull over and test out the headlights, bonus points if you can find a flat, blank wall to test them up against since you will probably be doing your test drive during the day. Then test the windshield wipers. I didn’t notice during my test drive that the wiper switch was on the other handle when and I keep turning on my turn signal when I mean to turn on my wipers. They also work differently. I’m getting used to it, but if it could be really hard for you to retrain your brain then that is something you really want to notice.

And then this part isn’t about driving the car, but about how it feels. I test drove a Chevy Equinox and I hated the way the seats felt. Like hated them. And given that I live at least a 19-hour drive from my family (and plane tickets cost over $1000 roundtrip) so I’ll likely be doing that drive a couple times a year and uncomfy seats are not it. Even if you are only driving to commute, that’s still probably at least half an hour to several hours depending on your drive and traffic, you want to feel comfortable in your seat. What I thought was really funny was that I noticed that I didn’t like the way the car felt within 10 seconds of getting in the car. I actually liked the way it drove, but I hated being in it. So there’s little things like that. Also really take the time to sit in it, play with the radio, the heat, the air conditioning, think about what you put in the trunk on a regular basis. If you have specific things that you need to fit in the trunk, measure it and then measure that trunk. Cars, apartments, beds, and couches; we spend a lot of time in and on these items and they are expensive. So we need to make sure that we are getting what we need out of them. Also, pay attention to smells, some smells you can get out, others are really challenging to get out; especially cigarette smoke. Also, if the dealer/seller doesn’t mention that there is a cigarette smell to the car, run. That is a red flag.

Also, you always want to ask for the CarFax report, you can get these yourself on that website, but it is the car’s entire history, maintenance, accidents, everything. A good dealer/seller will provide you with this. Also, if you didn’t buy your car and your curious you can also look this up.

So then once you have made your mind up it is time to think money. If you have the cash to pay it, or make a good down payment, do that. Anything you can do to reduce the monthly payment and reduce the amount of interest you will be paying on it do it. However, if like me you need help to replace your car then this is most likely the scary part for you, it was for me.

So I got financing through the dealership, however you can also go through your bank. Whatever you do, you need to ask these questions:

  1. Is that payment including tax or plus tax? (This is so we can actually know how much the monthly payment will be).
  2. Are there any penalties for repayment? (This is for if you have some extra money one month or whatever and you want to make an extra payment. Some loans will charge you if you do this, because they are losing out on interest income from you by you reducing your principle). You want the answer to this to be no.

Okay then, the logistics of buying. You will need your driver’s license, of course, and either direct debit information or a void cheque to give them your banking information. Some places will ask for two pieces of ID, I was very strongly told to never give my passport by the dealership guy. You’ll also need to ask if the seller is going to plate (or tag) the car for you, if they aren’t you will need to take the bill of sale, odometer reading, ownership, and your insurance to Service Ontario (or whatever your organization is called) and get plates for your car. In Ontario, this costs $90 + tax. If the seller is doing this for you then you will be paying them for that service and you will need to provide them with proof of insurance. My insurance company made this super easy for me, I called them and let them know that I was replacing my vehicle and told them where I was buying it from, and the lovely Megan called the dealership and arranged it all for me!

Then you’ll go in and sign all the paperwork, take all the time you want to read the papers, don’t let the seller pressure you into signing stuff without reading it thoroughly. I caught a mistake in mine, I had asked for monthly payments and the paperwork said biweekly. I caught that and was able to fix it really quickly. Then once everything is signed, congratulations! You’ve bought your first car!!

Now light part 2 here: How to scrap. I’m going to have to do an update, but I’m trying to sell my car for parts or repair. I currently have it posted on Facebook Marketplace and I think I may have a buyer coming tomorrow night. I think the biggest thing here is that unless you know how to take cars apart and sell the individual parts is that you will be disappointed with how much money you are going to get. Especially if your old car isn’t drivable anymore and you’re relying on someone else to remove it for you.

If after this week, Facebook Marketplace isn’t working for me, I’m going to reach out to the local tow companies (particularly the guy who towed me back in July because he mentioned that he sells scrap cars) and see if they have any interest in them. Once you have sold it, you take the money and sign over the vehicle portion of the car’s ownership. You keep the plate portion, and take your license plates off the car, you can then take them back to Service Ontario (or your version) and if they aren’t expired you might get some money back for returning them! It also helps prevent your plates from being stolen and used in something you might not want your identity connected with. It’s also one less thing you don’t need in your house.

Now, the next step (depending on what season you buy your car in) if you live in a snowy area, you are going to want to check what size winter tires you need and see if your old ones are the same (they likely aren’t, but you can check!). Then you can sell them too if they are still in good condition, and then use that money to buy new ones. Winter tires are really beneficial and they help bring done your insurance rates!

Best of luck on your car search!


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