Complete Car-Buying Guide: Buying a Used Car

By Mark Richardson

Going down the pre-owned road? Here’s some fuel for thought:

A used car will be less expensive than an equivalent new car, but you’ll need to do a bit more research, as you likely don’t know its full history. There’s also more variety in price, so it’s easy to overpay. But don’t worry—AMA is on your side!

Start by finding out about a vehicle’s history with an Alberta Motor Vehicle Information Report, available at AMA centres. It shows the odometer reading, when it was registered in Alberta, and if there’s any money owed on it.

Next, get a CarFax report—you can order it through AMA. The report will tell you if a vehicle has been reported stolen, rebuilt or salvaged in Canada or the U.S. It’ll also show title information, odometer readings, accident indicators and reported service and repair info. (You may also want to consider a Carproof report, which is even more comprehensive as it includes insurance claims and other details.)

You should also find out about a vehicle’s service history. If it’s been properly maintained, the seller should be happy to provide a record, showing regular maintenance and any repairs— whether under warranty or not.

Get the best value for your dollar when buying a new vehicle

Finally, make sure there are no surprises by having a qualified technician inspect the vehicle. The Alberta Vehicle Inspection program allows licensed shops to check the vehicle and provide a full report on its condition and safety, as well as make any repairs necessary, if requested. If the car for sale is registered outside Alberta, it must be given an “out-of-province vehicle inspection” by a licensed station before it can be plated. AMA members can visit select AARS shops to get preferred vehicle inspection rates.

If you’re satisfied you’ve found a car in good condition that’s legally clear to buy, check the recommended purchase price through the Black Book service available to AMA members. It tells you suggested prices for specific makes and models up to 14 years old. This will also help if you’re selling a car, so you know what price to expect from the purchaser.