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Inspecting a used vehicle for sale

Don't get stuck with a dud of a vehicle. Here's how.

Precautions to take

Before making an offer, we suggest taking the following precautions:

Do your own inspection

Here's a checklist of things to look for when you inspect a used vehicle you're interested in buying.

If anything causes you concern or if you feel pressured into buying the vehicle, walk away from the sale.

Checking ID and vehicle records

Checked? Item to check
  Make sure that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the dashboard identification plate matches the number on the vehicle registration form. Check that it has not been tampered with. If it has been tampered with, this may be a stolen vehicle. You should look for loose rivets, scratched numbers, mismatched rivets, screws in place of rivets, or tape, glue or paint over the VIN plate.

It is also a good idea to have a licensed mechanic compare the VIN numbers on the doorpost and engine firewall.
  Look at the original vehicle registration form, not a photocopy.
  Check that the vehicle make, model and colour match the description on the vehicle registration form.
  Make sure that the licence plate on the vehicle matches the plate number on vehicle registration form.
  If you are in the Lower Mainland, ask to see an AirCareexternal link certificate.

This certificate helps you determine that the vehicle is in good mechanical condition.
  Look at the seller’s photo ID to make sure that the name on the registration form is the same as on the licence, and that the photo matches the person in front of you. Make sure the person has given you a valid home address and phone numbers.
  Ask to see the service records for the vehicle.

Stolen vehicles usually do not come with maintenance records. You might want to call the repair shop to verify that the maintenance work was done.
  When purchasing a vehicle from the U.S., make sure it has not been in a flood. Flooded vehicles cannot be licensed or insured in B.C. For details, contact the Registrar of Imported Vehiclesexternal link

Inspecting the vehicle

Walking around the vehicle, look for the following items:

Checked? Item to check
  Evaluate the condition of the tires. For example, check if they are unevenly worn or balding.
  Press down each corner of the vehicle. It should come to rest quickly. If it keeps bouncing, the shock absorbers may need replacing.
  Check the trunk for spare tire, jack and wheel wrench.
  Inspect the vehicle body for dents, signs of rust, ripples or signs of repainting, which might indicate recent body work.
  If the seats, stereo and tires have been replaced with after-market equipment, ask the seller for receipts. This helps to verify that the items aren't stolen. (After-market equipment is equipment installed after a new vehicle is purchased.)
  Check the odometer reading (average is 25,000 km/yr) to ensure is hasn't been tampered with.

Taking a road test

If you're still interested in the vehicle, take it for a test drive. Look for the following items:

Checked? Item to check
  Check that the vehicle starts immediately and idles smoothly once it has warmed up.


  Check that the engine gauges and warning lights are working and that the steering does not stiffen up and bind. With power steering, there should be no squeaks or moans.
  Check that the brakes feel firm.
  Check that the vehicle can drive in a straight line without pulling to the side. Pulling to one side can indicate a problem with tire alignment.

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Do a lien search

A lien is a legal claim that one person has made on someone else's property.

A lien may be placed on a vehicle by a person or bank as collateral to make sure the vehicle's owner honours a debt. If the owner can't honour the debt, the vehicle is taken as payment.

Warning: If you buy vehicle with a lien on it and the previous owner doesn't pay a debt, the vehicle can be repossessed from you.

How to check for liens on a vehicle

In B.C., liens are registered by the Personal Property Registry in Victoria.

For $10, you can have a lien search done by:

ServiceBC centres and the B.C. government's Personal Property charge a $10 fee for a lien search. Fees vary for lien searches by private title services.

Note: ICBC driver licensing offices no longer do lien searches.

You can get Canada-wide lien information, which includes B.C. results, by ordering a CarProof™ VerifiedBC vehicle history report.external link

Invest in a vehicle history report

Although the seller may have maintenance records and receipts, it's still a good idea to do your own research.

A vehicle history report  can tell you a lot about a vehicle, such as whether it has had a damage claim (if records are available).

Have the vehicle inspected by a mechanic

After doing all of your homework, you need a mechanic to look under the hood. You will want to get a vehicle inspection report with a “passed” grade from a mechanic at a designated inspection facility.

To find an inspection facility near you, see the list of facilitiesexternal link posted on the B.C. government's Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement website.

If the vehicle has been in any crashes, you can also have a licensed auto body shop take a look at the vehicle to make sure it is still structurally safe. These experts can also tell you if the vehicle has been in any crashes or has been rebuilt and, if so, that the work was done properly.

The seller may have an inspection report for you to help you feel more comfortable. Make sure it is from a designated inspection facility. Even if the seller has a report, it is still a good idea to take the vehicle to an inspection facility. It is always wise to do your own research. Buyer beware!

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  • A number assigned by the manufacturer and unique to every vehicle. It can be found on the dashboard identification plate, on the doorpost, and on the engine firewall. Since 1981, the VIN has been 17 characters long.
  • The bottom 1/3 of the document you get from your broker when you register, license and insure your vehicle. The signed certificate must be carried in your vehicle as proof that the vehicle is registered. If you sell your vehicle, you must give this certificate to the buyer.

Vehicle claims history