Once you've found the car of your dreams, you might consider the following:

  • Check for liens. A lien usually means that a previous owner still owes money on the car for purchase or repairs. If you buy a car with a lien you may be responsible for it. To check for a lien, contact an Alberta registry agent. You may need to provide the registry agent with the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
  • Make sure the VIN on the dashboard identification plate matches that on the vehicle registration form and that it has not been tampered with. If it has been tampered with, it may be a stolen vehicle. Signs to look for are loose rivets, scratched numbers, mismatched rivets, screws in place of rivets, tape, glue or paint over the VIN plate. It is also a good idea to have a licensed mechanic check the VIN numbers on the doorpost and engine firewall.
  • Check the vehicle odometer reading. An average vehicle accumulates 16,000 to 25,000 kilometres per year. You should be cautious if the vehicle shows particularly low kilometres for its age or if the signs of wear are not consistent with the vehicle's odometer reading. If you believe the odometer has been tampered with, report it to the police. Odometer tampering is a criminal offence.
  • Inspect the vehicle in daylight. Check carefully for excessive wear of the interior upholstery, the seats, even the brake and accelerator pedals. New pedals may indicate a lot of use. Squealing brakes under normal operation can mean excessive wear or improper adjustment.
  • If the seats, stereo and tires have been replaced with after market equipment, request receipts for these items from the seller (this will help verify that they are not stolen items).
  • Evaluate the condition of the tires. Check the trunk for spare tire, jack and wheel wrench.
  • Press down each corner of the vehicle. It should come to rest quickly. If it keeps bouncing, the shock absorbers may need replacing.
  • Inspect the car body for dents, signs of rust, ripples or signs of repainting which might indicate recent bodywork. Ripples on the body of a vehicle suggest that bodywork has been done and that the vehicle could have been in a collision.
  • Ask about the vehicle's collision history and request a written statement that summarizes collision information.
  • Ask about warranty. Any warranty that is offered with the sale of the vehicle should be expressed in writing. The warranty should state exactly what is covered, who is providing the warranty and whether it includes both parts and labour. If the warranty covers "all major components," ask for a definition of what all major components are.

If you're still interested in the car, take it for a road test and check that the:

  • Vehicle starts immediately and idles smoothly once it's warm.
  • Engine gauges and warning lights are working and that the steering doesn't stiffen up and bind. If it has power steering, there should be no squeaks, or moans.
  • Brakes feel firm. If they pull to one side, this may indicate a problem with alignment.

Drive at different speeds on different road conditions because this will help you better evaluate the performance of the vehicle's steering, brakes, shock absorbers and front-end alignment. Lack of control during cornering at normal speeds or an excessively bouncy ride can mean steering linkage problems and/or worn-out shock absorbers.