Guide to buying a used car


Use this checklist to ensure you haven’t missed any critical steps when buying a used car.
  1. Research and find used cars on the autoTRADER website
  2. Inspect the car thoroughly or pay a mechanic to do so
  3. Test drive the car under different road conditions
  4. Check the CARFAX report for prior history
  5. Negotiate a price, keeping in mind total cost of ownership
  6. Get your insurance in place and pay using secure forms of payment
  7. Contact your provincial Ministry of Transportation for regulations and documentation requirements

Before You Buy A Used Car

Buying a used car makes sense financially, because someone else has already paid for most of its drastic depreciation in value. With thousands of cars available, you’re sure to find one that suits your needs and fits your budget. Considering a new car? Click here for tips and advice.

Here are some points to consider before you start the buying process.

  • Think about your wants and needs for a car - do you need many seats for carpooling? Do you want high-tech features e.g. Bluetooth? How much trunk space do you need?
  • Decide your budget for the car, taking into account car insurance and fuel costs to help determine your financing requirements. Talk to your dealer, local bank or review your savings to determine how you’re going to finance the car.
  • Research cars on the or websites. You can also review safety test results for cars on the autoTRADER YouTube channel.
  • If you’re replacing your current car, sell it fast by listing it for FREE on

How To Buy

Finding a car

Finding a car is not easy. It could take days if not weeks to find something that is in your price range, has the right mileage and is in good condition. Here are some tips to make finding a car easier:

Communicating with the seller

Once you’ve identified a car you’re interested in, contact the seller.
  • Ask questions about the car e.g. condition of the exterior, prior accidents, history of the car.
  • Also verify details stated in the ad like mileage, year, etc.
  • Set-up a time to view the car, keeping enough time to inspect and test drive the car.

Inspecting and test driving the car

Before you head out to inspect the car, make sure it’s a good prospect so that you don’t waste your or the seller’s time. When inspecting the car:
  • Check the exterior for any damage or scratches.
  • Check if all the interior features work e.g. windows, locks, audio system, etc. Does the interior look well maintained? What’s the condition of the upholstery?

Before closing the deal

  • Use the autoTRADER Value Finder tool to research pricing for similar cars.
  • Review the CARFAX report. Check for liens, previous accidents and confirm the VIN, province of registration, etc.
  • Make sure you’re educated about the additional costs of ownership e.g. insurance costs, approximate fuel expenses (considering fuel grade and fuel economy), expected maintenance costs, etc.
  • Ask to see vehicle documentation as required by your province (e.g. Used Vehicle Information Package for motorcycles in Ontario).

Closing the deal

  • Discuss price and come to an agreement with the seller. If you’re offering less than the listed price, explain why and state your price. It may be related to what you found during your inspection.
  • The seller may reject your offer. If so and you’re not willing to pay more, tell the seller to give you a call if the car doesn’t sell and he/she re-considers your offer.