Look­ing for a used car? Don’t buy the cheap­est car, and do your re­search

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - DAVID HODGES

TORONTO — Sales of new ve­hi­cles may have hit a record high in Canada, sur­pass­ing the two-mil­lion mark for the first time last year, but the ma­jor­ity of con­sumers are still pro­jected to buy used pri­mar­ily for one key rea­son: cost sav­ings.

DesRosiers Au­to­mo­tive Con­sul­tants fore­casts that about 59 per cent of prospec­tive buy­ers in Canada will pur­chase used ve­hi­cles this year.

It’s been well es­tab­lished that new ve­hi­cles in­cur rapid de­pre­ci­a­tion as soon as they’re driven off the lot. Most new cars can lose up to 50 per cent of their value dur­ing the first fours years of own­er­ship.

That’s ex­actly why Es­ther Paulsen and her hus­band Tim bought sec­ond-hand when they were shop­ping around for a re­place­ment ve­hi­cle in De­cem­ber for their grow­ing fam­ily.

“Our de­ci­sion to go new or used was dic­tated by bud­get,” said Paulsen, a teacher in Toronto. “We didn’t even look at new as I was com­ing off a ma­ter­nity leave and we are ba­si­cally sin­gle salary with two kids.”

But look­ing to save money buy­ing sec­ond-hand shouldn’t pre­clude buy­ers from want­ing to en­sure their car is in top con­di­tion, cau­tions Ge­orge Iny, president of the Au­to­mo­bile Pro­tec­tion As­so­ci­a­tion.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, a three- or four-year-old used car com­ing off lease would of­fer more value for your dol­lar,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be a price junkie. Don’t shop for the cheap­est car. That’s what most con­sumer ad­vice tells you to do. It’s a mis­take.”

Iny points to pre­vi­ous re­search con­ducted by the APA in the Greater Toronto mar­ket at a time when the pop­u­lar Honda Fit was rel­a­tively new and in short sup­ply. His or­ga­ni­za­tion found 25 used Fits for sale on auto clas­si­fieds site Au­toTrader.ca.

“We then looked at the cheap­est seven of them and there was a story with ev­ery sin­gle ad: curb-sider, ac­ci­dent re­con­struc­tion, sketchy main­te­nance, col­li­sions. So you’d be bet­ter off look­ing for used ve­hi­cles that are higher priced and bring­ing an ad for one of the low-priced mod­els that’s sim­i­lar to ne­go­ti­ate with the seller.”

Find­ing a car in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion will mean hav­ing it checked out, Iny added. “You have to see ser­vice records.”

But if a seller can’t show you a car’s full his­tory, copy­ing down its ve­hi­cle iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber (VIN) to get a CarProof re­port can help iden­tify pre­vi­ous ac­ci­dent claims and any out­stand­ing liens, said Mo­hamed Bouchama, a con­sul­tant for Car Help Canada.

“You have to be very care­ful. You don’t want to buy some­body else’s prob­lem,” he said, adding to make sure that if the ve­hi­cle has been sub­ject to re­call or re­pairs to check that the re­pairs have in fact been done.

Iny noted that CarProof re­ports aren’t in­fal­li­ble, though. “In­for­ma­tion is of­ten miss­ing on col­li­sions but the big stuff should show up in On­tario, and in B.C. it’s very re­li­able — 90-plus per cent re­li­able. In Que­bec it’s un­re­li­able,” he said.

Tak­ing the ve­hi­cle for an in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tion, es­pe­cially if the ve­hi­cle is out­side the war­ranty cov­er­age, is also rec­om­mended, Bouchama said, “de­spite the fact that 50 per cent of buy­ers don’t do that.”

Buy­ers should also be ex­tra cau­tious about any hid­den is­sues if they’re pur­chas­ing a used ve­hi­cle from a pri­vate seller ver­sus a deal­er­ship.

“If you buy from a dealer, you’re fully pro­tected. If you had a prob­lem and the dealer didn’t dis­close it, then you have ev­ery right to go back to the deal­er­ship and there are laws that pro­tect you from a dealer. When you buy pri­vately you’re not pro­tected at all,” Bouchama said.

Other com­mon burns prospec­tive buy­ers should watch out for in­clude sell­ers who mess with the mileage. “Be­lieve it or not, these day it’s a lot eas­ier to roll back the odome­ter,” said Bouchama.

Its some­thing that can be de­ter­mined by tak­ing the VIN to a deal­er­ship and hav­ing them in­put it into their data­base.

Even ask­ing to see if a used car has snow tires can tell you a lot about its his­tory, Iny added.

“That gives you an idea that the per­son wasn’t pinch­ing pen­nies on their ve­hi­cle.”

CHRIS YOUNG, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Mo­hamed Bouchama, con­sul­tant for Car Help Canada, in­spects a used car at a me­chanic’s garage in Toronto.

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