Buying a used vehicle can come with some risk. You can help minimize that risk by doing your homework and making an informed purchase.
What should you know before buying used?
Choosing a seller
AMVIC recommends you choose products and services sold by AMVIC-licensed businesses. Licensed businesses commit to following the consumer protection rules set out in Alberta’s Consumer Protection Act. More information on the benefits of buying from a licensed business and how to locate a licensed business.
An automotive business operator must disclose vehicle history in writing to the consumer before purchase. This includes answers to the following:
- Was the vehicle ever bought back by the manufacturer?
- Was the vehicle ever damaged by fire?
- Was the vehicle ever damaged by flooding?
- Was the vehicle ever used as a police or emergency vehicle?
- Was the vehicle ever used as a taxi or limo?
- Was the vehicle ever owned by a vehicle rental business or used as a rental vehicle?
- Was the vehicle ever declared a salvage vehicle in Alberta, or the equivalent under another jurisdiction?
- Was the vehicle ever declared a non-repairable vehicle in Alberta, or the equivalent under another jurisdiction?
- Was the vehicle ever declared an unsafe vehicle in Alberta, or the equivalent under another jurisdiction?
- Was the vehicle ever in need of repairs that cost more than $3,000 including parts and labour due to an incident or collision? If yes, the total cost to complete the repairs.
- Was the vehicle previously registered in a different jurisdiction immediately prior to the business operator acquiring it? If yes, name the province/country.
- If the vehicle was registered in another jurisdiction immediately prior to the business operator acquiring it, was it required to be inspected prior to being registered in Alberta? If yes, did the vehicle pass or fail any inspections?
Consumers can use AMVIC’s used vehicle purchase guide.
Mechanical Fitness Assessment
Licensed businesses must provide you with a completed Mechanical Fitness Assessment (MFA) before you enter into a contract to buy a used vehicle. Be sure to ask if you are not provided with one. If the seller refuses, contact AMVIC.
- Check the date of the assessment. It is valid for 120 days.
- The MFA is an assessment— not a pass/fail inspection. You can still buy the vehicle even if it does not fully comply with all items listed. If that’s the case you must be provided with a description of the items that are missing or do not comply.
- Private sellers are not required to provide a Mechanical Fitness Assessment.
More information about the Mechanical Fitness Assessment.
Curbers (a.k.a., curbsiders) are unlicensed automotive sales businesses. Typically, curbers sell stolen, damaged, or odometer-tampered vehicles. Consumers who buy these vehicles are often disappointed and find that when problems surface, the seller is gone and they have limited recourse.
- Curbers don’t all look the same. Some pose as individuals selling their vehicle privately and others look like legit businesses.
- Learn how to spot a curber.
Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
The VIN is like the vehicle’s fingerprint. This combination of 17 letters and numbers is unique to the vehicle and represents a number of facts about the vehicle e.g. the model year, ownership, country built, and assembly plant.
- Because the VIN is so critical for resolving issues of ownership, model year, lien search and lien registration, it’s essential to record it accurately and completely. Be sure to record it directly from the vehicle itself and not from another document which may be in error.
Note that RVs have two VINs: one for the chassis* (primary) and one for the coach (secondary). *The chassis includes the frame, steering and suspension, exhaust and powertrain.
A lien on a vehicle is when a creditor lends money to a debtor taking the vehicle as security. This means that if the debtor defaults on the loan payments, the creditor has a right to repossess the vehicle and sell it to recover the money owed. It is best practice for an automotive business selling a vehicle to pay out any liens prior to a consumer purchasing it, however it is always worth checking on the lien status before purchasing a vehicle. AMVIC-licensed businesses must pay out all liens on a vehicle within seven days after it is sold to a consumer.
More information on researching a vehicle.
- The more information you have about the vehicle, the better. Ask an independent technician to inspect the vehicle.
- Don’t rush into a decision. There are plenty of other vehicles out there.
- Bring a friend with you. It’s a good idea to have a witness for the transaction and to help keep you on track.
- You can check if a vehicle has been reported stolen by searching the VIN on the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) database. The CPIC check is free.
- Get a receipt and keep your paperwork.
- Consider negotiating the cost of necessary repairs as part of your purchase agreement.
- Play it safe. Buy from an AMVIC licensed business.