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ICBC survey finds customers want to know more about a used vehicle's history before making a purchase

October 16, 2012

used vehicle's history  

While the majority of us have purchased a used vehicle, we also admit to often doing so without being fully aware of its history, according to a survey recently conducted by ICBC.

In a sample survey of customers, 90 per cent of respondents said they had purchased a used vehicle, and two-thirds said they would likely do so again for their next vehicle - citing motivations including financial savings, similar reliability and that they're a good choice for a second family vehicle.

However, among those who are unlikely to purchase a used vehicle, 81 per cent said that not knowing the vehicle's history is a concern, along with the reality of a shortened warranty (84 per cent). In fact, the survey found that more than one quarter of respondents were not even aware that there are a number of cost-effective tools out there for learning more about the history of a vehicle.

Buying a vehicle is a significant investment, so it's vital you do your homework to ensure you know what you're really buying - especially when that vehicle is a used one. Inflated prices, hidden damage, mechanical problems, liens and impulse buys - we've all heard the horror stories but buying a used vehicle doesn't have to feel like such a big risk.

A vehicle history report can tell you a lot about the car you're thinking of buying, like whether it's been in a major crash and subsequently written off and rebuilt, has any liens on it or if it's flood-damaged. It's important for consumers to know that flood-damaged vehicles cannot be imported into Canada from the U.S. for on-road operation.

As the most cost-effective starting point, customers should consider ICBC's vehicle claims history report which may include all of the information you need to know, including details on any damage claimed through ICBC. The report was expanded last year to not only list any claims made on the vehicle but to also identify the primary area of impact of the damage. It also includes warnings if the vehicle may be in unsafe condition and require an inspection and indications if the vehicle is listed by the police as stolen.

Approximately 275,000 of these reports are purchased every year and they're also used by B.C.'s vehicle dealers, Autoplan brokers and our own special investigations unit to investigate fraud. ICBC also offers a free search to determine the vehicle's current status - one of the most important pieces of information about a vehicle.

You can also consider more detailed reports such as those from CarProof which is recommended if you have specific concerns about a vehicle's history or if its registration shows it was imported from outside of B.C. These reports will give you details on all ICBC claims, plus information from other insurers and vehicle databases across Canada and the U.S. More information on the different vehicle history reports can be found on

One of the other concerns survey respondents highlighted when buying a used vehicle was a lack of trust in the seller (67 per cent), despite more than half also saying they would consider using online services such as Craigslist, where risks are greater.

Buying from a licensed motor dealer can give you additional peace of mind and you can also check their business record with the Better Business Bureau. If you decide to purchase a used vehicle privately, make sure you're taking some extra steps to avoid being taken advantage of by a curber - a person who presents himself as a private seller but is really in the business of selling vehicles without a dealer's licence.

A sure-fire way to tell if you're dealing with a curber, and not a legitimate private seller, is to search the source you're using - whether it's Craigslist or the classifieds section of the newspaper - and see if their number is listed with another vehicle. If you go ahead with a private purchase, we also recommended that the seller accompanies you to an Autoplan broker's office to complete the transfer of ownership.

While almost all respondents (94 per cent) identified getting a used vehicle inspected as an important step, many felt they did not have enough knowledge to do one of these themselves. After you've done your homework and taken the vehicle for a test drive on local roads and the highway, it's important to get a professional inspection done by a qualified mechanic. If you're not sure who should inspect the vehicle then BCAA's vehicle inspection is a good choice. Their 143-point visual, instrument and performance inspection is very thorough.

A little research can go a long way in protecting yourself when you're buying a used vehicle. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible before signing on the dotted line and handing over payment. If at any point along the process something causes you concern, your best option may be to walk away from the sale. Importantly, if a deal on a vehicle seems too good to be true - it probably is.

Visit for more tips on buying a used vehicle including important guidelines on transfer of ownership and registering, licensing and insuring your vehicle. You can also download a copy of our used vehicle buyer's checklist and get tips on selling a used vehicle and buying a new vehicle. The Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia is another great resource for learning about what you need to know when buying a used vehicle.

Media contact:
Adam Grossman