Buying used? Check for liens

DATE: | Consumer bulletins

Thinking of buying used? Before you finalize the sale make sure your new-to-you ride does not have any outstanding liens.

What is a lien and why should you check? 

A lien could be filed against a vehicle if the owner financed the purchase and has money owing to the lender. A lien could also be registered against a vehicle for outstanding repairs, parts or storage fees.  A lien means that the lien holder (lender) has a right to the vehicle until the loan is paid.

If a vehicle owner sells you a used car that has an outstanding lien you could be on the hook for the remaining balance. If the lien is left unpaid the vehicle could be repossessed by the lender: meaning you would no longer have a car or the money you used to buy the car with.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Always get a vehicle history report. A vehicle history report can tell you if there are liens registered against the vehicle.
  • Always copy the VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number off the vehicle itself. A VIN is like the vehicle’s fingerprint. Be sure to record the VIN accurately and completely. Record it directly from the vehicle itself and not from another document which may be in error.
  • Choose to buy from licensed businesses. Automotive businesses are required by law to be licensed by AMVIC. You have a right to expect that there will be no liens on any vehicle purchased from an AMVIC-licensed business. Search our database to be sure the business you are buying from is licensed.
  • Be extra careful if you choose to buy privately. AMVIC does not regulate private sales between individuals. Be sure to do your research into lien and accident history. Sometimes curbers, or unlicensed sellers, pose as private sellers. Consumers who buy vehicles from curbers are often disappointed and find that when problems surface, the seller is gone and they have limited recourse.

History reports:

There are different types of vehicle history reports that provide varying information.Three of the most common types of reports accessed for historical information are CARFAX, Carproof and Vehicle Information Report.

The difference?

  • Carfax and Carproof: Search accident history and liens for vehicles that have been registered in Canada or the United States.
  • Vehicle Information Report or VIR: Available for purchase from an Alberta registry agent. This report provides information about a vehicle’s registration history and the number of liens registered in Alberta against the vehicle. VIRs cover Alberta registration information only and do not include other jurisdictions where the vehicle may have been registered.

More information on researching a vehicle and how to spot a curber