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How to buy a used car in Alberta

Follow these steps to make sure you have all your bases covered when buying a used car in Alberta.

Alberta has its own set of rules and regulations for how to buy a used car. Find out more about how to navigate the used-car buying process in Alberta and get province-specific information all in one place so that you don’t miss out on any important details.

What should I know about buying a used car in Alberta?

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:

  • Both the seller and buyer’s full name and address
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • The vehicle’s make, model, series, style, colour and year
  • How much the vehicle costs
  • The date of purchase and date of agreement
  • Both the seller and buyer’s signatures

Other documents and steps to consider when buying a used car from a private seller

  • Check their ID and vehicle registration certificate, which is proof that they own the car.
  • Get a vehicle information report from Alberta Motor Association (AMA). This contains information such as registration dates and locations, odometer reading and number of liens in Alberta.
  • Search the Personal Property Registry if you want details on the liens in Alberta.
  • Get a CARFAX report, which details the vehicle’s history. This contains information such as liens, service records, odometer reading and accident history. (A CARFAX report checks for liens nationwide within the past year. An AMA report checks for number of liens in Alberta, while a Personal Property Registry report gives detailed information on the liens in Alberta.)
  • Get a safety inspection from a Motor Vehicle Inspection facility if it’s a salvage or out-of-province vehicle.
  • Get an inspection done by a trusted mechanic.
  • Check if the car was reported as stolen by visiting the Canadian Police Information Centre database.

Buying a used car from a dealer

If you’re buying a used car from a dealer in Alberta, you’ll need the following:

  • Comprehensive bill of sale. This provides details about the car and sales agreement to protect you from unauthorized, surprise costs. All fees and charges must be included on this. It should include buyer/seller information, vehicle information, payment information, vehicle history (which includes car inspection) and trade-in information.
  • Deposit agreement. This contains details about the deposit, down payment or partial payment you paid.
  • Consent to start work. If applicable, you’ll need to give consent via an email, phone call or text message before the dealership does any work on the car.

Used car tax in Alberta

If you’re buying a used car from a private seller, you do not pay any tax. If you’re buying a used car from a dealership, you’ll pay 5% GST.

Registering a used car in Alberta

Visit a registry agent to register your used car. You’ll need the following:

  • Bill of sale
  • Proof of insurance
  • ID, such as your driver’s licence
  • Inspection report if it’s a salvage car or out-of-province car

Steps to follow before buying a used car in Alberta

1. Settle on a budget

Decide how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a car before you start shopping. On top of how much the car you want costs, you should think about additional car expenses such as interest, sales tax, insurance, registration, maintenance and gas costs. You may want to aim to spend less than 10% to 15% of your income on buying a used car in Alberta.

Expenses to consider when buying a used car in Alberta

Consult the table below to make sure you can afford the cost of buying a used car in Alberta:

ExpenseTypical cost in Alberta
Purchase price$1,000 to $40,000
Interest ratesAPR typically between 8% and 10%
Sales tax5% at dealerships, 0% for private sales
Car insurance$700 to $2,000 per year
Scheduled maintenance$500 to $700 per year
Emergency repairs$50 to $6,000
Gas$50 to $200 per month
RegistrationAround $90 per year
Actual costs will vary based on your driving record and what type of car you have

2. Decide where to buy your car

You can buy a used car from a dealership, private seller or online broker in Alberta. The provider you go with will affect the process you need to follow to carry out your purchase.

  • Dealer. You’ll usually pay more if you shop with a dealer because there’s less risk involved and it can be more convenient.
  • 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.
  • 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.

3. Decide how to pay for your used car in Alberta

Think about whether you want to get financing or use your own savings to pay for a car. Be aware that you can usually only get financing when you shop with a dealership or auto broker (and not typically with a private seller). If you go the financing route, you may want to get pre-approved for a loan before you start shopping so you know how much you’ll have to spend.

Steps to follow when buying a used car in Alberta

4. Compare your options and negotiate prices

Compare car listings online and reach out to private sellers and dealerships to see if they’re willing to negotiate on price. You may be able to ask your seller to price match with similar cars (same mileage/condition) by sending them ads you find online. Follow these tips to negotiate used car prices in Alberta.

5. Schedule test drives and inspections

Test drive and inspect your used car to make sure it’s in good working order. This can involve checking essential components such as the engine, tires, steering and electrical systems.

You may also want to schedule an inspection with a licensed mechanic, check the vehicle identification number (VIN) and/or request a vehicle inspection report before buying a used car in Alberta.

Used car checklist: What to look for when inspecting a used car in Alberta

Learn what to look for when buying a used car by consulting this inspection checklist:

  • Body of the car. Check for dents, dings, scratches and other physical damage.
  • Vehicle interior. Look for damage to the upholstery, manifolds and dash.
  • Vehicle undercarriage. Inspect for leaks or rust under the car.
  • Tires. Make sure the tires have tread and are in good condition.
  • Engine, brakes and steering function. Check that the engine runs smoothly and the car brakes and turns easily.
  • Electrical systems. Make sure all of the electrical systems are working properly, including lights, power windows, sunroof, heated seats, power locks and more.
  • Heating/cooling systems. Verify that air conditioning and cooling systems work.
  • Miscellaneous parts. Confirm that miscellaneous parts are in good working order including wipers, gauges, speedometer, odometer and radio.

Steps to follow after buying a used car in Alberta

6. Pay for your car

You’ll need to pay for your vehicle with your savings or with financing. For savings, you’ll usually pay in cash or with an Interac e-Transfer or bank transfer. For financing, your bank or lender will deposit the money into your account and you’ll use this to pay for your car. You’ll then need to repay your loan with regular monthly payments over an agreed-upon term (usually 3-5 years).

7. Get your car registered

Registration in Alberta currently costs around $90. To register a used car in Alberta, you’ll have to go to a registry agent near you with the following documents:

  • Government-issued ID. Show your licence or other government-issued ID.
  • Proof of ownership. Present proof of ownership such as a lease, bill of sale, probated will or letter of administration.
  • Proof of insurance. Submit proof of valid insurance for the vehicle that includes the name of the person requesting the registration.
  • Mandatory inspections (as required). You’ll need to submit any mandatory inspections such as out-of-province or salvage vehicle inspections.

8. Organize insurance

The average cost of car insurance in Alberta is $1,316, but you could pay anywhere from $700 to $2,000 per year to insure your car. You’ll need the following documents to get insurance:

  • Government-issued ID. Show your licence or other government-issued ID.
  • Proof of ownership. Present proof of ownership such as a lease or bill of sale.

Where can I buy car insurance in Alberta?

There are a number of different private car insurance companies in Alberta to choose from. These include The Co-operators, Allstate, AMA, belairdirect, Aviva and many other providers. You can also apply for insurance from many of Canada’s Big Five banks – though you may need to deal with salespeople to get the right deal.

How to choose a used car that fits your needs

Look for a car with the following features to make sure you get a vehicle that fits your needs:

  • Fit for purpose. Buy a car that makes sense for your budget and lifestyle and that will accommodate your passenger and storage needs.
  • Low mileage. Make sure your used car has low mileage (usually 120,000km or less) to avoid getting stuck with large maintenance bills.
  • Spotless vehicle inspection. Get an inspection and ask for old maintenance records to make sure your used car is in good condition and was well taken care of.
  • Priced to sell. Check sites like Kelley Blue Book and Canadian Black Book to figure out how much your car should cost and don’t pay more than that.
  • Passes a VIN check. Use a site like CarMax to check the vehicle identification number for the car you want to buy to make sure the sale is legitimate.
  • Eligible for financing. Double-check that the car you want to buy is eligible for financing if you plan to borrow money for buying a used car in Alberta.

How to buy a used car in Alberta if you live out of province

You’ll need to follow some additional steps if you’re from another province but want to buy a used car in Alberta.

  • Get an out-of-province inspection. You’ll usually need to get an out-of-province inspection for any used car you bring into your province from Alberta.
  • Fix identified issues. You’ll typically have to pay to fix any issues flagged in the inspection before you can register your used car in your province.
  • Provide paperwork. Present proof of ID and ownership (such as a bill of sale) to register your vehicle in your own province.
  • Pay taxes. Pay the taxes required by your province to import a vehicle from Alberta (usually between 5% and 15%, depending on the province).

Bottom line

Learn more about the steps you should take before, during and after buying a used car in Alberta. Learn where to buy a car, how to secure financing, what to consider when you’re ready to buy and how to lock in registration/insurance in Alberta. You can also consult our used car checklists to make sure you have everything you need to get the car you want.

Frequently asked questions

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