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​Inspecting a used vehicle for sale

Don't get stuck with a dud of a vehicle. Here's how.

Precautions to take

Before making an offer, we suggest taking the following precautions:

Do your own inspection

Print a copy of our Used vehicle buyer's checklist to help you make an informed decision when shopping for a used vehicle. If anything causes you concern or if you feel pressured into buying the vehicle, walk away from the sale.

If you choose to inspect the vehicle yourself, you can divide your inspection into three parts:

Vehicle records and ID

  • Confirm that the vehicle make and model, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and licence plate match what's listed on the original registration, not a photocopy
  • In a private sale, ask the seller for photo ID and confirm their home address and contact information. Make sure this information matches what's on the registration
  • Ask for the vehicle's service records. You may also want to verify service or repairs with the repair facility.

The vehicle itself

  • Check the condition of the tires
  • Check for a spare tire, jack and wheel wrench
  • Inspect the vehicle for dents, signs of rust, ripples or repainting
  • Confirm that any modifications (such as suspension lift-kits or window tinting) have been inspected and approved. If the vehicle includes any after-market equipment, ask if the seller can provide receipts.
  • Check the odometer. The average vehicle drives 25,000 kilometres per year.

A test drive

  • Confirm that the vehicle starts and that it idles smoothly
  • Check that engine gauges and warning lights work
  • Test the steering, brakes and alignment

Have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic

As suggested in the Used vehicle buyer's checklist, you may want a professional mechanic to do an inspection and look under the hood.

If the vehicle has been in any crashes, you can also have a licensed auto body shop take a look at the vehicle to make sure it is still structurally safe. These experts can often tell if the vehicle has been in any crashes or has been rebuilt and, if so, that the work was done properly.

The seller may have an inspection report for you to help you feel more comfortable. Make sure it is from a designated inspection facility. Even if the seller has a report, it is still a good idea to take the vehicle to an inspection facility. It is always wise to do your own research. Buyer beware!

Do a lien search

A lien is a legal claim that one person has made on someone else's property. A lien may be placed on a vehicle by a person or bank as collateral to make sure the vehicle's owner honours a debt.

Why it's important to check for liens

If you buy vehicle with a lien on it and the previous owner doesn't pay the debt, the vehicle can be repossessed from you.

How to check for liens on a vehicle

In B.C., liens are registered with the Personal Property Registry in Victoria.

You can have a lien search done by:

  • some ServiceBC centres (in person only, $10 per search)
  • the Personal Property Registry (written requests, $10 per search)
  • private title services (search online or check the Yellow Pages for "Title Service" - cost varies by provider)

You can also get Canada-wide lien information, which includes B.C. results, by ordering a CARFAX Canada vehicle history report.

Invest in a vehicle history report

Although the seller may have maintenance records and receipts, it's still a good idea to do your own research.

A vehicle history report can tell you a lot about a vehicle, such as whether it has had a damage claim (if records are available).