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Buying a Used Car Privately (A Step-by-Step Guide)

When deciding on buying a car, buying used has become more and more popular as vehicles are now more reliable than ever. Used cars are also packed with relevant technologies with newer vehicles having standard safety features such as back-up camera and more future-proof infotainment options such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Going to a dealership will most likely be the most straight forward process, especially if you have a vehicle to trade-in. Although if you are willing to do more work, you will have more options and may save more money if choosing to buy a care privately. Below are 4 steps to help guide you through the private purchase journey.

Step 1: Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions

Every used car is different, as every car that you inquire on will have a different owner and a different story. There are some key questions you should ask of the seller before you go in person to visit the car:

  • Can you confirm that the car you’re selling is a <make, model, year, colour, style>? You’d be surprised at how often a seller posts incorrect information about their vehicle.
  • Do you have all the vehicle’s maintenance records for the entire period you have owned the vehicle and/or before you owned the vehicle (if it had another owner)?
  • Does the vehicle have any current or past damages, visible or not?
  • Do you have a Carfax vehicle history report that you can send? If they do not have one we highly recommend you getting one to ensure a clean vehicle history and to also check if there is any outstanding lien on the vehicle. If you ask the selling for their vehicle’s VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), then you can use this information to pull a Carfax report yourself for a small fee.

If the owner can’t directly and fully answer these questions, then the sale will inevitably run into trouble down the road. If they are unwilling to answer any of these questions, then it is probably a red flag. Although even if they answer these questions, there is always a chance that they may not be telling the truth. Carfax report also only tells you what has been officially recorded. The next few steps will help you paint a clearer picture of the vehicle and the seller.

Step 2: Test Driving the Vehicle

Once you are comfortable with the initial interactions with the seller, you can then schedule a test drive. Your test drive shouldn’t be a simple driving of the car around the block a couple of times. You should try to put the car through its paces a little. Take the car around the seller’s area first, but then try to get it onto a larger road where you can add power and speed. Try also to include any and all of the following elements:

  • Check to make sure all the electrical/mechanical items work. Common items includes: cameras, signals, headlights/taillights, power liftgate/doors, infotainment system, power window/locks, horn, seat adjustments
  • A route on which you’ll have to stop and start at intersections to test the brakes
  • A hill start (manual transmission) – to test the hill start assist function (if applicable) or just to see how easy it is to get the biting point, essentially meaning the engine can start moving the wheels.
  • Some basic maneuvers like parallel parking, reversing around a corner, three-point turn, etc.

As you are driving, make sure that any minor annoyance you may experience won’t bother you for years to come. Take the driver’s seat adjustability for example. Can you get into a position that is comfortable, practical and allows you optimum visibility through the windshield?

Step 3: Buying – Check the Documents

So the test drive went well and you’re now really excited to complete the transaction so that you can drive home with the car as soon as possible. The next stage is checking documents with the seller. The seller should have done the following things already, and be ready to share them with you:

  • Purchased a UVIP — Used Vehicle Information Package — which contains all the vehicle details and specifications, its registration history in Ontario, information on Vehicle liens (claimants who have a right to the car or an amount of money owed), Retail Sales Tax information and additional information on the vehicle’s condition.
  • A signed bill of sale (BOS) which includes the seller’s name and address, the date of the transaction and the agreed purchase price. A simple BOS is available for use as part of the UVIP package.
  • A completed and signed Application for Transfer — don’t worry it’s not a separate form, you can find it on the back of the green ownership permit.

To verify that the seller is legally allowed to sell the car to you. Verify that the vehicle’s VIN (usually found by the bottom corner of the windshield, on the dash) matches that on the seller’s vehicle permit. Also confirm that the name on their driver’s license matches the information on the permit.

A good seller will also be able to provide you with a Safety Standards Certificate from a qualified mechanic. This is not a warranty, but it shows that the vehicle meets at the minimum province-mandated safety standards.

Finally, if everything looks in order, take the vehicle portion of the owner’s permit, and the UVIP, and sign and date the bill of sale. The bill of sale must be signed and dated by both parties.

Step 4: Register Your Car

The final step must take place within 6 days of the purchase date. Remember that the buyer is responsible for the 13% HST sales tax in Ontario, which is calculated from the purchase price or the wholesale value, whichever is greater.

All you have to do is to visit a Service Ontario centre (you can find all their locations here) and bring a few things with you:

  1. Proof that you’ve purchased insurance on the car
  2. Your valid Ontario driver’s license
  3. The UVIP with the bill of sale
  4. Owner’s permit with completed Application for Transfer
  5. Current Odometer reading

At this point, if the seller hasn’t already provided you with a Safety Standards Certificate, then you’ll have to have one ready if you want to put your plates on right after registration. You can buy and register your car without it, but won’t be able to attach your plates until you have it. You can get them at any certified mechanics licensed by Ministry of Transportation Ontario to issue a Safety Standard Certificate.

Enjoy Your New Vehicle

Once you’ve navigated these steps, you can drive your newly purchased car in confidence and start reaping the benefits. There are a few extra steps to take as opposed to going to a dealership, but much of it is quite straight forward if you plan out the steps, and do a bit of research. Much of the process is contained into a few items like the UVIP. There’s no need to apply separately for lots of different forms and papers. If you get everything in order, the process will be just a little less painful and you’ll be in your new ride before you know it!

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