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How to get pre-approved for a car loan

Learn about 5 simple steps to get car loan pre-approval and compare lenders that offer this type of car loan online.

Walking into a dealership with a pre-approved car loan not only helps you know your budget, but it gives you bargaining power to get the best rate. Banks, credit unions and online lenders can offer car loan pre-approval.

What does it mean to get pre-approved for a car loan?

Car loan pre-approval is a way for lenders to assess your eligibility and estimate the type of loan, amount and interest rate that you’re likely to be approved for. Pre-approval typically happens before you submit a full financing application where the lender looks at all of your finances, like income and full credit history, to give you a loan offer.

How to get pre-approved for a car loan in Canada

  1. Know your credit score. Knowing your credit score will give you an idea of how attractive your application will be. You can get a free copy of your credit report from credit bureau Equifax. A credit score above 660 is typically considered “good” for car loans.
  2. Compare car loan lenders. Check the interest rates, loan amounts, loan terms and eligibility requirements of the lender. You can easily compare lenders in the table below.
  3. Apply selectively. Only apply for car loans where you meet the eligibility requirements, and limit the number of applications because while some lenders won’t run a hard credit check at this stage, others might. The amount of information you’ll have to provide will depend on the lender, but generally, you’ll need to provide your name, address, date of birth and employment details.
  4. Review and submit. Make sure your application details are correct because errors could result in a rejection. Once you submit your application, wait for a team member to contact you.
  5. Get pre-approval. The team member will discuss rates and terms with you.

Compare lenders that offer pre-approved car loans

1 - 6 of 6
Name Product APR Loan Amount Loan Term Requirements Long Table Description
CarsFast Car Loans
4.90% - 29.90%
$500 - $75,000
12 - 96 months
Requirements: Min. income of $2,000 /month, 3+ months employed
Loans Canada Car Loans
7.99% - 31.99%
$500 - $35,000
24 - 120 months
Requirements: Min. income of $1,800 /month, 3+ months employed
Clutch Car Loans
From 8.49%
$7,500 - No max.
12 - 96 months
Requirements: 3+ months employed, Max.1 bankruptcy, Ontario & Nova Scotia only
Carloans411 Car Loans
1.90% - 19.99%
$500 - $50,000
Up to 72 months
Requirements: Min. income of $1,600 /month, 3+ months employed
Canada Auto Finance
4.90% - 29.95%
$500 - $45,000
3 - 96 months
Requirements: Min. income of $1,500 /month, 3+ months employed
Splash Auto Finance
9.90% - 31.00%
$5,000 - $50,000
24 - 84 months
Requirements: Min. income of $2,200 /month, 3+ months employed
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Compare up to 4 providers

Does pre-approval mean you will get the car loan?

No, pre-approval does not mean you’re guaranteed the car loan. If you wish to proceed with a car loan, the lender will ask for supporting documents, like pay stubs and government-issued ID, to verify your information and do an in-depth review of your finances. This includes a hard credit check. The lender will also need to verify the car’s worth with the dealership.

Once the loan officer or underwriter is satisfied with all of the information, the loan can be unconditionally approved. Basically, even with a pre-approval on hand there are still some hoops for you to jump through!

Does pre-approval affect my credit score?

It depends. Most of the time, lenders are able to pre-approve potential applications via a “soft pull” on your credit information, which does not affect your credit score. However, if you end up getting pre-approvals from multiple car loan lenders who do hard credit pulls, your credit score could temporarily go down.

That said, most credit bureaus spot “rate shopping,” where they consider multiple applications for the same type of loan as one. They group these similar credit pulls together especially if they are done within a space of 2 weeks up to a month, so your score may not decrease significantly.

How long does it take to get pre-approved for a car loan?

You can expect pre-approval turnaround times that are as quick as minutes up to 1 business day, depending on the lender you’re working with.

With online lenders, you can get pre-approved car loans online by filling in their applications within minutes and receiving a decision almost instantly with a list of loan offers from various lenders. In other cases, a lender may need to contact you for more information before making a decision.

If you’re working with your bank, which already has access to your financial information, including your salary and assets, the process may be more streamlined.

What happens after I get pre-approved for a car loan?

After you get pre-approved for a car loan, most lenders allow you to shop around for around 30 days to find the right car. Some might offer pre-approval for as long as 60 days. Either way, you have a window of time to work with while your pre-approval still stands. If you don’t make a decision during that time frame you can apply for another car loan pre-approval. Ideally, your financial situation hasn’t changed much since then so it’s a smooth process.

Why would I be denied a car loan after pre-approval?

The most common reason is that your financial circumstances have dramatically changed since you applied, such as a loss of income or filing for bankruptcy. Another reason for rejection is your supporting documents not matching the information you’ve previously given the lender.

Another instance where this may happen is if you’re dealing with a car loan scam, commonly called a “yoyo scam”. With these scams, a dealer leads you to believe you’ve been approved for financing, then tells you you’ve been denied and then comes back with less favourable loan offer. To avoid this altogether, do your research and only work with reputable lenders.

Am I eligible for car loan pre-approval?

While specific eligibility requirements will depend on the lenders you reach out to, most lenders will be willing to assess you for pre-approval as long as you meet some basic qualifications. To get a loan, you have to be at least 18 years old and a permanent resident or Canadian citizen. You also have to have a steady, paying job and be able to afford your loan repayments.

What credit score do you need to get pre-approved for a car loan?

It’ll be easiest to get pre-approval for a car loan with a good to excellent credit score from 660 to 760 or higher. If you have a lower credit score there are many lenders who offer pre-approval to bad credit borrowers. Read our full guide to bad credit car loans to learn more.

When should I apply for car loan pre-approval?

Ultimately, it’s up to you and depends on your situation. You might want to get pre-approved if some of the following applies to you:

  • You’re new to lending. Getting pre-approved can give you an idea of what type of loan you can actually get without the commitment.
  • You want to stick to a budget. A pre-approval is a great way to know how much you can borrow and to stick within those parameters. You’ll know which cars are out of reach and you can narrow your search accordingly.
  • You want to negotiate. Going to a lender with a pre-approved rate in hand is key to making a solid case for yourself.
  • You aren’t set on a dealership. Having a pre-approved car loan effectively makes you a cash buyer. If you don’t like what the dealer is offering, you can move on to the next.
  • You want to save time. You’re one step ahead of the game if you’re armed with a pre-approval. You can save yourself the time going through a dealership’s finance office to figure out an ideal loan if you already have a pre-approved loan in hand.
  • You want to focus on car shopping. With the financing out of the way, you can zero in on finding the best car for your needs. Instead of running the numbers in your head, you’ll know how much you can afford.
  • You want to buy a car within 30 to 60 days. Pre-approval is only valid for a certain period of time, so apply when you’re ready to buy a car.

        Can I get a pre-approval on a car loan with bad credit?

        Yes, you can. While it’s pretty easy to obtain a pre-approval with a great credit score and a down payment in hand, people in bad credit situations can get pre-approved for a car loan too. In fact, there are online lenders that specialize in providing car financing for any type of credit situation, including no credit, poor credit and bankruptcy. You can apply online just as you would if you had good credit and you can receive your decision on a pre-approval within minutes.

        What are the advantages of pre-approved car loans?

        If you’re on the fence about taking the initiative and getting pre-approved for a car loan, there are some benefits worth taking stock of:

        • Confidence in your financial situation. Because the lender assessed your finances and gave you the green light to purchase a vehicle, you don’t have to stress about securing financing.
        • Bargaining power. Knowing how much you can spend gives you the upper hand when negotiating a price at the car dealership because you can use the money you conditionally have to convince the dealer to give you a good price. For example, if your pre-approval is for 11% APR, offer the salesperson 8%. If they come back with 9%, you’ve scored a better deal for yourself.
        • Receive a lower interest rate. If the pre-approved loan came with an interest rate, you can haggle with the dealership to see if they can offer you a more competitive in-house financing deal — let them make the first offer. If they want your business, they might work to one-up the offer you got from the outside lender. Learn more about car loan interest rates.
        • Increases loan options. Because you’ll already have a loan, you won’t be stuck with whatever financing package you’re offered. Pre-approval can protect against dealership markups.
        • Avoid up-sales. Pre-approval gives you a specific amount you have to spend. When the salesperson tries to upsell you with GAP insurance or an extended warranty, you’ll know if you can afford it.

        Is there a difference between getting pre-approved for new and used cars?

        There isn’t a striking difference between pre-approvals for new and used cars. The major disparity is the amount you may be asking to borrow because new cars will come with a bigger price tag. In this instance, it may be easier to get pre-approved for a used car compared to a new one since you can ask for a smaller loan.

        Car loan pre-qualifying vs. pre-approval vs. conditional approval

        Pre-qualifying, pre-approval and conditional approval are a few terms commonly used by lenders to describe qualifying for a car loan, and can be easy to confuse. Some people use these terms interchangeably, while other lenders only use one term when referring to any of the others.

        Still, the terms are technically not the same. Here’s are some things to keep in mind when you come across these different terms.

        Pre-qualifyingPre-approvalConditional approval
        How does it work?Gives you an estimate of what you might qualify for based on basic eligibility requirements.Helps you know what you’re likely to be approved for before an in-depth look at your finances.After submitting a full application, the lender will give you a car loan as long as certain conditions are met.
        Guaranteed financing?
        • No
        • No
        • Yes, given the conditions are met
        Affects credit score?
        • No
        • No
        • Possibly, yes
        Can be used to negotiate with other lenders?
        • No
        • Yes
        • Yes

        What to do if you can’t get pre-approved

        If you’re having trouble getting pre-approved for a car loan, don’t fret. You can turn your situation around by taking on these measures:

        Improve your credit

        A major reason why lenders may be turning down your pre-approval request is your credit history. If you have a history of making late payments, missing payments altogether or maxing out your credit card, your credit score may reflect these mistakes. Take your time to rebuild your credit, pay off your debts as much as you can and make sure you’re staying on top of all your debt repayments. Within 6 months’ time, your credit score should see a boost from all of your efforts.

        Look into getting a cosigner

        Another way to successfully get pre-approved is to ask a family member or close friend to cosign on your loan and act as a guarantor. The catch? If you default on payments, your guarantor will have to pick up on your loan, so make sure they are aware of what they are committing to. Both of your credit scores will take a hit if you default on your loan.

        5 steps to buying a car

        Here are a few steps to keep in mind before buying a car:

        1. Research your car. The make. The model. The year. The colour. How much it will cost to insure. Also take gas efficiency costs into consideration because that will be your next biggest expense after your car loan repayments.
        2. Check your financial standing. Car loans are a serious financial commitment. Be sure that a loan is something that you can realistically fit into your budget. You don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t keep up with your payments and your credit score takes a hit.
        3. Test drive your car. Taking the car for a test drive helps you determine if there are any issues.
        4. Take the car to a mechanic. Even if it costs a little extra, having a mechanic eyeball your car for any problems under the hood could save you a boatload of money down the line.
        5. Shop around. Your next car may be available from several dealers — it would be good to shop around and find out which dealership is offering the most competitive deal for your preferred vehicle.

        Bottom line

        When you’re searching for a pre-approved car loan, keep in mind that not all loans offer pre-approval as an option. If you want the security of knowing what your car budget is and what you can approach a dealer with in order to negotiate, it’s important to know exactly which lenders will pre-determine this information for you.

        Frequently asked questions about pre-approved car loans

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