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Pre-purchase inspections for cars

Why is a pre-purchase inspection so important when buying a used car and where can you go to get one?

Buying a used car? If you don’t have any mechanical or automotive knowledge, the car you buy could have hidden defects or problems that could cause expensive trouble down the road. This is where a pre-purchase vehicle inspection can help, providing peace of mind that any car you plan on buying is in good condition.

What is a pre-purchase car inspection?

A used car pre-purchase inspection is a thorough assessment of the safety, mechanical condition and cosmetic features of a vehicle. It’s carried out by a licensed mechanic or auto technician who inspects the vehicle for any existing or potential problems that could affect its safety or require maintenance or new parts in the future.

Once an inspection has been completed, you’ll be provided with a detailed report explaining the results, including any defects or problems that may have been detected. You can then use this information to decide whether the vehicle is roadworthy and in good condition and whether the price the seller is asking represents good value for your money.

Where can I get a pre-purchase inspection?

To get a used car inspection before you buy, you could go to the following:

  • Auto dealerships. If you’re buying from a dealership, it can carry out the pre-purchase inspection for you. However, if you’d rather have the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic or auto technician, you may want to consider one of the other options below.
  • Your mechanic. If you have a regular mechanic you know and trust, you can take the vehicle to them to have it inspected.
  • Auto service centres. If you don’t have a mechanic you can rely on to carry out the inspection, you can find an approved service centre near you through the Canadian Automotive Association (CAA).
  • Mobile inspection services. Mobile pre-purchase inspection companies come to you to complete the inspection. This can be a convenient option, particularly if you’re buying from a private seller, so search online for a mobile inspection service near you.

You might want to compare a few providers in your area to find one that offers the most comprehensive services at a price point that fits your budget. Whichever business you choose, make sure the inspection will be carried out by a licensed mechanic or auto technician.

You’ll typically need to call ahead to book an appointment before bringing the vehicle in, though some mechanics might let you schedule one online.

Why should I get a pre-purchase vehicle inspection?

Getting a pre-purchase inspection isn’t a mandatory requirement when you buy a used car, but it is a wise move. Having the vehicle inspected by an independent mechanic can help you make an informed decision about your next set of wheels:

  • It will identify any issues. Many potential issues with a used car are not immediately obvious to the untrained eye. By getting an expert to conduct an inspection, you’ll be able to unearth any problems that may affect your decision about whether to buy a particular vehicle.
  • You could save money. Buying a car with hidden defects could end up costing you thousands of dollars in repairs. This is especially true if you’re buying a car that’s no longer covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Car buyers can also use the results of a pre-purchase vehicle inspection to negotiate a better price with the seller.
  • You can buy with confidence. Buying a used car is risky. Unless you know about cars, you run the risk of purchasing a vehicle with hidden defects. A pre-purchase vehicle inspection can give you the peace of mind that you’re buying a quality vehicle for a fair price.
  • You can buy from afar. If you’ve found a vehicle you want to buy, but you can’t check it out yourself because it’s a long way from home, arranging an inspection can help you make an informed decision without seeing the vehicle in person.
  • You can sell for more. If you’re selling a used vehicle, a pre-purchase vehicle inspection is a very effective sales tool. If you can demonstrate to buyers that your car’s in excellent condition, you’ll be in a strong position when the time comes to negotiate a price.

What gets checked at a pre-purchase car inspection?

The exact list of items checked during a pre-purchase vehicle inspection will vary depending on the mechanic or independent inspection service you use. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for, so expect to pay extra for a thorough inspection.

Here’s a checklist of what the mechanic will check during a thorough inspection:

  • Engine, including the cooling system, drive belts, oil level and engine computer fault codes.
  • Exterior and undercarriage, including checking the panels and frames for rust, accident or hail damage, and any previous repairs.
  • Oil leaks from the engine, brake system or drivetrain.
  • Suspension and exhaust system.
  • Wheels and tyres, including the remaining tread on tyres.
  • Glass, including the condition of the windscreen and whether all windows operate properly.
  • Interior trim, including door locks and hinges, seat belts, seat trim and more.
  • Electrical components, including the battery, alternator, lights, heater and air conditioning.
  • On-road performance, including how the car handles and brakes, engine and transmission performance and whether it has any strange noises or rattles.

Basic inspections typically involve a visual examination of the car’s exterior and interior. If you’ve got a CARFAX Vehicle History Report, the mechanic or auto technician will also know if there are any areas of the car that require particularly close attention. They will then be able to check whether any previous damage the vehicle suffered has been repaired properly.

Before you choose an inspection service, find out exactly what they check during the inspection. The more thorough the assessment, the more confident you will be about buying the car.

How much does a pre-purchase inspection cost?

You’ll typically pay between $100 and $300 for a pre-purchase vehicle inspection. However, the actual cost will vary depending on where you live, the mechanic you choose, the type of car you’re having inspected and how comprehensive you want your inspection to be. If you want a detailed inspection for maximum peace of mind, you may need to pay a little more.

Should I get a pre-purchase inspection at the dealership?

The dealership has already carried out its own inspection, so there’s no need to pay for another one, right?

Not necessarily. Let’s face it, used car dealers don’t exactly have the best reputation when it comes to trustworthiness, so do you really want to take their word for it?

It’s always a good idea to have the car inspected by an independent mechanic you trust – especially if you’re not 100% sure you trust that the seller or dealer would be upfront and honest about any potential issues.

With a legit inspection carried out, you can make a decision about whether to buy the vehicle with complete confidence.

What to do after a pre-purchase inspection

Your next steps once you receive your report will depend on what the inspection reveals. If there are no issues, you can go ahead with the purchase as planned.

If the inspection does turn up any problems, the mechanic will tell you what they are, how serious they are or potentially could be and how much they’ll cost to fix.

In cases where the issues aren’t overly serious, you can use them to increase your bargaining power and negotiate a better price. But if there are serious safety concerns or expensive repairs required, you might think twice about going through with the purchase.

And if the inspection reveals damage the seller has failed to inform you about, you might decide to steer clear of the seller altogether.

Consumer protection laws when buying a used vehicle

Unlike the USA, there are no so-called “lemon laws” in place in Canada. However, used car dealers and online dealerships must comply with provincial regulations when selling used vehicles. These regulations typically apply to licensed dealers only, so you may have limited recourse if you buy from a private seller.

Let’s take a look at your rights and any protections in place where you live.

Alberta

In Alberta, used vehicles are sold “as is”, which means that any flaws or defects that occur after you’ve bought a car are your responsibility.

Before a used car dealer can sell a vehicle, they must have a mechanical fitness assessment completed by a licensed journeyman technician. This assessment checks over 60 parts – you can check out the form online – and must be provided prior to the sale of a vehicle.

Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council (AMVIC) is the automotive industry regulator, so make sure you buy from an AMVIC-licensed dealer. Regulations outline the vehicle history information dealers must disclose to used car buyers, such as the following:

  • Whether the vehicle has ever been damaged by fire or flood.
  • Whether the vehicle has ever been declared a salvage, non-repairable or unsafe.
  • Whether the vehicle has ever required repairs costing more than $3,000.

Finally, no matter whether you buy from a dealer or private seller, be sure to check the bill of sale for any statements about the vehicle, such as warranties or claims about its condition.

Contact the AMVIC toll-free investigation line at 1-877-279-8200 if you have a complaint about the misrepresentation of a vehicle sale.

British Columbia

When you buy from a licensed dealer in BC, they must follow regulations set out by the Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia (VSA). For example, they must disclose to you the following details:

  • Whether the vehicle comes from outside the province.
  • Whether it’s previously been used as a police car, taxi or rental vehicle.
  • Whether it’s ever sustained damage costing over $2,000 to repair.
  • Whether the vehicle was declared as salvage and rebuilt.

You may also be protected in part by the Sale of Goods Act, which stipulates a range of conditions known as the legal warranty. Under the act, the vehicle you buy must be reasonably fit for purpose, durable for a reasonable time and be as described by the dealer.

However, the warranty can be waived for used goods, and there are fewer protections if you buy from a private seller.

If you have a complaint about a car you purchased from a licensed dealer, you can fill out a VSA complaint form.

Manitoba

Licensed dealers in Manitoba must tell you certain facts about a vehicle’s history and condition. They must disclose factors such as the following:

  • Whether the vehicle was declared a lemon in another jurisdiction
  • Whether the vehicle was damaged by flood or fire
  • Whether the vehicle has been used as an emergency vehicle
  • Whether the vehicle was written off and branded as salvageable
  • Whether the vehicle has suffered more than $3,000 worth of damage in one incident

If you have any concerns after buying a used car from a dealer, you can call the Manitoba Consumer Protection Office at 204-945-3800 or toll free at 1-800-782-0067.

New Brunswick

The Consumer Product Warranty and Liability Act provides protection for used car buyers in New Brunswick. It stipulates that dealers must disclose whether a car is new or used and must sell vehicles that are fit for purpose and durable for a reasonable time. The act also sets out your options for seeking compensation or remedies when a car dealer does the wrong thing.

However, if you buy from a private seller, you’re not eligible for the protections provided under the act.

More information is available from New Brunswick’s Financial and Consumer Services Commission.

Newfoundland and Labrador

If you get a pre-purchase inspection from a dealer and you later find a problem in relation to that inspection, you’ll need to contact the Motor Registration Division to file a complaint.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador also warns that there is no 30-day cooling-off period when buying a car. If you find a problem with the car, there is no automatic recourse with returning it or getting a refund.

Nova Scotia

If you buy from a dealership in Nova Scotia, the Consumer Protection Act protects you against getting ripped off. The act stipulates a range of requirements dealers must follow, such as the following:

  • The vehicle must match the description provided
  • The vehicle must not have money owing on it
  • The vehicle must be of good quality

However, private sales are not covered by the act, so you may need to go through the Small Claims Court to try and seek a solution.

Ontario

If you buy from a private seller in Ontario, they’re required by law to provide you with a Used Vehicle Information Package (UVIP). This includes details such as the following:

  • Vehicle details, including year, make, model and specs
  • The vehicle’s registration history in Ontario
  • Vehicle lien information
  • The vehicle’s average wholesale value
  • The condition of the vehicle

However, you’re not protected by consumer protection laws if you buy from a private seller.

A UVIP is not required when you buy from a registered used vehicle dealer. Ontario’s Vehicle Sales Regulator (OMVIC) administers and enforces the Motor Vehicle Dealers Act and Consumer Protection Act. The Motor Vehicle Dealers Act outlines 22 requirements dealers must disclose when selling a used car, such as the following:

  • If it’s ever been used as a tax or emergency vehicle
  • If it’s ever suffered more than $3,000 worth of damage
  • If it’s ever been classified under the Highway Traffic Act as irreparable, salvage or rebuilt
  • If it has sustained any fire or flood damage

OMVIC also runs a compensation fund for consumers who suffer a financial loss from a transaction with a licensed dealer. If you have an unresolved dispute with a dealer, you can contact OMVIC’s Complaints & Inquiries Team via phone, email or online.

Prince Edward Island

At the time of writing, there’s no information available online about regulations for dealerships in PEI.

However, PEI requires annual vehicle inspections for cars and trucks. So if you’re buying a used car in PEI, check the car’s recent inspection report first and find out the name of the garage that did it. This shouldn’t replace an inspection done by your own mechanic. If the dealer refuses to let you hire your own mechanic, this is a red flag and you should shop elsewhere.

Quebec

If you buy a used vehicle from a dealership, warranties provided for under Quebec law ensure that you’re entitled to buy a vehicle that does the following:

  • Will serve the purpose for which it’s intended
  • Will have a reasonable lifetime
  • Will not have any hidden defects
  • Will match the description provided by the dealer

There’s also a warranty of fitness that applies to recently built used cars. It covers the parts and labour required to ensure that a car is in good working order.

Warranty categoryModel year and mileageDuration of warranty
A2 years or less and 40,000km or less6 months or 10,000 kilometres, whichever is reached first
B3 years of less and 60,000km or less3 months or 5,000 kilometres, whichever is reached first
C5 years or less and 80,000km or less1 month or 1,700 kilometres, whichever is reached first

The Office de la protection du consommateur provides tips on how to negotiate with a dealer if there is a problem with your vehicle.

If you buy from a private seller, Quebec’s Civil Code provides a warranty against hidden defects, but you’ll need to check the contract closely before you buy to make sure this warranty isn’t excluded.

If you notice a defect, you’re required to write to the vendor as soon as possible to notify them. If the negotiation process doesn’t work, you can pursue the matter through the courts.

Saskatchewan

There’s no cancellation period in Saskatchewan if you want to return a used vehicle. However, if you buy from a licensed motor vehicle dealer, statutory warranties apply.

The Vehicle Dealer Regulations under The Consumer Protection and Business Practices Act (CPBPA) state that licensed dealers must provide you with all reasonably knowable facts about a vehicle’s condition and history before you buy.

Dealers must also provide a minimum powertrain warranty on vehicles with less than 200,000km mileage. The warranty lasts for 30 days or 1,000km, whichever comes first, and provides cover if any component of the powertrain fails. You can choose to have the car repaired or be refunded the purchase price, but if you choose the repair option, you may be required to contribute up to $200 to the cost of repairs.

If you have a dispute with a licensed dealer, you can contact the provincial government’s Consumer Protection Division toll free at 1-877-880-5550 or by email at consumerprotection@gov.sk.ca.

Bottom line

A pre-purchase vehicle inspection is a vital step in buying any used car – whether you’re shopping at a dealership or buying from a private seller. Having a licensed mechanic or auto technician give your car a once-over can help ensure you’re not throwing your money away on a lemon. And once you’ve found the perfect car, you can compare your car loan options to help you bring it home.

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