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Buying a Used Vehicle

For many individuals, buying a used vehicle may be an attractive option. The difference in price between a new and used vehicle can be significant even when the used vehicle is only a few years old. However, there are some precautions you should take when buying a used vehicle, especially from a private seller.

Condition of Vehicle

Buying from a licensed dealer can offer some protections. Dealers must disclose anything they know or should know about the vehicle that would reasonably affect a person's decision to buy. There are also advertising rules including requirements to sell at an advertised price.

The condition of the different used vehicles, even of the same make, model and year, can vary a lot. Dealers are required to provide you with some information but for private sales you will need to ask for this information

To avoid buying a vehicle that requires costly repairs that make it not such a great deal you should...

  • do a VIN search (available through Saskatchewan Government Insurance) if it is a private sale or if buying from a dealer review the one the dealer must provide
  • learn about the vehicle's history in Saskatchewan by conducting a Saskatchewan Damage Claims History Search (available free of charge through SGI )
  • test drive the vehicle on smooth payment and rough roads at various speeds and open the hood, the trunk and all doors and windows to make sure they are in working order
  • get a safety, structural and drive-train inspection done by a trusted mechanic to find any hidden defects (dealers must tell you about known problems)
  • ask if the odometer is not accurate or has been replaced or altered (dealer must tell you if this is the case)
  • make sure the vehicle meets the minimum equipment and maintenance standards set out under Saskatchewan law (dealers must tell you if the vehicle does not meet these standards)
  • ask for copies of repair receipts to see what work has been done
  • confirm that all recall notices have been completed
  • if it is a newer vehicle, determine if the warranty is still valid
  • ask if the vehicle was last registered in Saskatchewan (see out-of-province vehicles for information about potential issues when a vehicle was not last registered in Saskatchewan)

Private Sales

Is the person really a private seller or a curber posing as one? Find more about how to spot a curber and the risks of buying from one here.

Before you buy it is important to make certain you want the vehicle and that you have your financing in place, if you need it. You do not have the right to return a vehicle bought privately. In some cases you may be able to sue the seller for misleading you about the condition of the vehicle but this would require you to go to the trouble and expense of a lawsuit. Even if you are successful you would then have to collect from the seller.

If you decide to buy a used vehicle there are steps you can take to help ensure that the vehicle is worth the money you will be paying. With a used vehicle it is important to see what you are getting. Avoid buying online unless the sale is conditional on you having the opportunity to inspect the vehicle and have it checked out. Whether buying online or in person, it is important to take the time you need to check the vehicle out. A seller who has nothing to hide should not object to this and sales can be made subject to inspections if time is an issue.

As Is

Signing a contract that you are buying a vehicle "as is" means that you accept the current condition of the vehicle. This term is used by a seller as notice that there are no promises about the quality of the vehicle. The buyer must rely only on their own inspection to determine a vehicle's quality, and generally takes all of the risk for any defects. Courts may ignore the "as is" clause if the defects are serious enough and if it appears that the seller misled the buyer at the time of the sale but, as with other cases of a defective vehicle, you would have to be successful in court and then collect from the seller.

A vehicle that has been identified as a total loss vehicle in Saskatchewan or any other province cannot be registered unless it passes the necessary inspections. All total loss vehicles must pass a mechanical inspection. Total loss vehicles that have sustained damage that affects their structural integrity or have evidence of corrosion must also pass body integrity inspection.

Total Loss Vehicles

Sometimes a vehicle has been damaged in an accident and cannot be repaired economically. It then is "written off" and referred to as a total loss vehicle. It is illegal to sell a total loss vehicle unless a certificate of temporary inspection has been issued for it. This is a record of the extent of damage to the vehicle. The penalty for selling such a vehicle without a certificate is a fine of up to $1000.

However, by itself, this law will not protect the purchaser. If you find out after the sale that a vehicle is a total loss and it does not pass the inspections you will not be able to register the vehicle. Your only recourse at this point would be to sue and collect damages from the seller. This is why it is important to check a vehicle's history and find out if it can be registered in Saskatchewan before you buy it.

Out-of-Province Vehicles

The rules about "total loss" vehicles apply to vehicles that have been declared a "total loss" in another province. As well, any used vehicle that was not last registered in Saskatchewan must pass a mechanical fitness inspection before it can be registered. If you are buying an out-of-province used vehicle you will want to make sure it has passed this inspection before you purchase it so you will not be left with a vehicle that cannot be registered.

Liens

If you buy from a business you automatically have a statutory warranty that guarantees you clear title to anything you purchase, including a used vehicle.

A lien is a claim that someone has against an item, such as a vehicle, as security for money that is owed. A lien could secure a loan or, in the case of a vehicle, payment for repairs done on the vehicle.

When buying a used vehicle, always check with Information Services Corporation to see if there are any liens registered against it. When buying on credit, a loans manager will often check for you. But remember it still is your responsibility. If a loans manager forgets to check, you may suffer for it. Liens against a vehicle are always registered by serial number. Make sure the serial number is correct when checking on a lien or when someone else checks for you. A valid lien may allow the lien holder to seize the vehicle as payment of a claim against a previous owner.

If the lien has not been registered and you have no other notice of it, you will not have to worry about someone repossessing the vehicle because of a lien against a former owner. However, if the lien has been registered and you do not check the Registry, the vehicle could be repossessed. You cannot rely on a bill of sale that says "Clear of Liens". If a lien was registered against the vehicle before the sale, then the vehicle can be taken away from you, regardless of what your bill of sale says.

If the vehicle is seized by a valid lien holder, the only right that you have is to claim against the person you bought the vehicle from. But, that person may no longer be around, or may not have any money to make it worth your while to try to recover the purchase price.

Making the Purchase

Often when people are purchasing used vehicles they are purchasing them from private individuals. If things go wrong in these situations there is no dealership to go back to. There are precautions you can take to avoid potential trouble when purchasing a used vehicle privately. To reduce the chances of trouble you should...

  • view the vehicle at the seller's home address - be cautious if the seller seems too eager to bring the vehicle to you or make the deal in a different location - like a mall parking lot (this could be a sign that the person is a curber)
  • insist on seeing the current vehicle registration in the seller's name
  • pay by certified cheque made out to only the registered owner
  • pick up the vehicle in person - do not accept delivery on a private sale
  • record and confirm the name, address and telephone number of the seller for future contact
  • collect the "Transfer of Ownership" or "Vehicle Identification Certificate" attached to the seller's registration certificate and the bill of sale
  • have the seller write the mileage on the bill of sale - if you suspect odometer tampering report it to the police
  • check whether the vehicle is eligible for registration in Saskatchewan by requesting a Cross-Canada VIN Search of the vehicle by its vehicle registration number (available for a fee from SGI)
  • check for liens by visiting Information Services Corporation or calling 1-866-275-4721

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