What to check when buying a used car

12 minute read Published on Nov 3, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

What to check when buying a used car

Are you thinking of buying a used car? Although there are plenty of benefits to buying used, there are a few factors to consider. For example, you will want to check the age of the car and the vehicle report history, as well as inspect it for signs of damage or mechanical issues. So before completing your used car purchase, we recommend asking the questions below. The answers to the following questions can provide insight into the condition of the used car and whether or not it’s right for you.

10 questions to ask before buying a used car in Canada

Discover several questions you should ask a used car dealer or individual seller before buying a used car in Canada:

1. What is the value of the car?

One of the best questions you can ask right off the bat is how valuable the car is, or how much the used car is worth. This will allow you to determine whether you are getting a good deal or not. Find out from the seller what they think the value of the car is - chances are, it’s the price they are selling it at. Next, do some independent research to find out what others believe the car to be worth. You could even hire an appraiser to assess the car for you. If you learn that the seller’s price is above average, you might be better off looking elsewhere. You can also try to negotiate for a lower price using the research you collected indicating that the value of the car is lower than the sale price.

Ultimately, if the car is in poor condition, such as if it has suffered expensive damage in repeated car accidents, its value is likely to be lower. Learn more about reporting a car accident and having to report a car accident in Ontario by contacting BrokerLink.

2. What is the age of the car?

Knowing the age of the used car is also important as this directly correlates to value. Since cars depreciate very quickly up to 25% in the first year alone and up to 60% in the first five years, understanding how old the car is will help you. If the used car is still relatively new, such as a year or two old, then you can still expect it to depreciate in value quite a bit. Alternatively, if the used car is old - perhaps four or five years old - then most of the damage is likely already done. This might make it a better investment.

Not only can knowing the age of the used car help you decide whether to purchase it but it can also give you leverage in negotiations. For instance, if the car is less than a year old and you’ve done some research into how that make and model loses value over time, you can use this information to negotiate a lower purchase price.

3. How much mileage does the car have?

Mileage is another important factor to consider. Since a car’s lifespan is often measured in mileage rather than age, knowing the mileage of the car you want to buy is extremely important information. Ideally, the mileage on the vehicle should be as low as possible. The lower the mileage, the higher in value the car is likely to be and the longer it is likely to last. Don’t simply trust that the seller barely drove it. Instead, ask for the exact mileage, divide it by the age of the age, and compare that to the average mileage per year for other vehicles. For more information on how to calculate mileage, contact BrokerLink.

4. Can I see the vehicle history report?

Ask the seller if they have a copy of the vehicle history report. A vehicle history report details the car’s life, from the accidents it has been involved in,to its service history, if there’s a lien registered against the vehicle, if there have been any recalls on the model, as well as a list of its previous owners.

For example, if the car was involved in a common car accident, the report will state the date and location of the accident, as well as the damage done. Most used car dealers provide one for free. However, you can also search for a vehicle history report online using the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN).

In Canada, we recommend running the VIN through a service like CARFAX. CARFAX Canada Vehicle History Report not only reveals the information listed above but will also calculate an estimated value for the vehicle based on the information found on the report. Depending on what you find on the report, you might be able to use it to negotiate for a better price. To discover tips for buying a used car that was in an accident, contact BrokerLink.

5. Does the car suffer from any mechanical issues?

Asking about damage to the vehicle is important no matter what used car you are buying. The problem with asking about mechanical issues is that most people do not have a strong understanding of what the signs of these types of issues are. For this reason, hiring a professional to inspect the used car and look for any indications of a mechanical problem is vital. Just make sure to ask the seller if they are comfortable with you hiring a mechanic to inspect the car. Since mechanical problems in cars can be extremely expensive, it’s best to know what you’re getting into before the deal is done.

6. What is the condition of the car’s exterior?

The next question to ask pertains to the car’s exterior. Specifically, it’s important for used car buyers to find out the condition of the car’s exterior before purchasing it. This can be done through a visual inspection:

  • Windshield
  • Rearview mirror
  • Side mirrors
  • Headlights, signal lights and brake lights
  • Wheels
  • Tires
  • Paint
  • Car frame
  • Bodywork

During the inspection, carefully assess all parts mentioned above for cracks, scratches, dents, rust, and other signs of damage. You should check that the headlights are in working order and that they are not foggy or discoloured. Further, check tire pressure and tread depth to ensure the tires are in good shape.

7. What is the condition of the car’s interior?

Checking the car’s interior is just as important as the exterior. Don’t hesitate to poke around inside. This is the only way that you will find out what sort of shape it's in. Examine the inside of the car for rips and tears in the seats, stains, and strange odours, like cigarette smoke. You should also test that everything works as it should - including all seat belts, doors, seat warmers, air conditioning, and more. Ultimately, taking a seat inside the car will give you a clear picture of how well the previous owner has taken care of the vehicle.

8. Can I take the car for a spin?

Just as if you were buying a new car, you should ask the seller if you can take a test drive. This is the best way of gauging how the car feels. When driving, pay close attention to everything from braking and turning to accelerating and changing gears. Listen for strange sounds and notice if anything feels off. Drive at different speeds and in different conditions, if possible, such as over a small bump or pothole to see how the car fares.

9. Is the used car under warranty?

Next, ask the seller whether the car is under warranty. Some used vehicles are sold without a warranty, also referred to as “as is.” Meanwhile, others may be sold with an existing warranty. Knowing the car’s warranty status can help you decide whether it’s worth the purchase. If the used car does not come with a warranty, that means that you will be on the hook for any problems that arise after the moment you take ownership. If you choose to go through with the purchase, make sure to have a mechanic inspect it first. This will reduce the odds of an expensive repair shortly after the purchase.

It’s also worth noting that if the used car is being sold without a warranty, you might have the option of purchasing a warranty from the used car dealership, though you should weigh the pros and cons of doing so to ensure it’s worth the price. One last word on warranties - some used cars are covered by the manufacturer's warranty, which means that the manufacturer will be required to pay for certain repairs or replacement parts should something go wrong.

10. How may the used car affect my auto insurance rates?

Another question to ask pertains to car insurance. As you may already know, car insurance in Ontario is required. The reality is that the car you drive will affect your no-fault insurance rates. Thus, it’s important to find out how the make and model of the used car you are considering could affect how much you pay for auto insurance. Generally speaking, older, used cars tend to result in lower insurance premiums than new cars. So if you are trading in a new car for a used car, then your insurance rates may actually go down.

However, this isn’t a guarantee, as other factors come into play that are related to your vehicle, like its safety and reliability ratings, as well as the likelihood of it being stolen. Reach out to BrokerLink to learn more about how the type of car you drive can impact your auto insurance rates. You can also request a free car insurance quote using the make and model of the used car you are interested in buying to determine whether your rates are likely to go up or down if you buy the car.

Used car vehicle inspection checklist

Inspecting a used car is of the utmost importance to ensure it’s in good shape before purchasing it. Whether you choose to do the inspection yourself or hire a mechanic to do it for you, the following parts of the vehicle’s exterior and interior should be carefully examined:

Exterior vehicle checklist

Vehicle body

Check the general body of the vehicle, looking for any dents, scratches, misaligned panels, gaps, or rust. You can also evaluate the paint colour to ensure that it is the same on every part of the car.

Open and close the doors, hood, and trunk

Test out all car doors, as well as the hood and the trunk. Open and close each and pay attention to whether you have any difficulties doing this, as well as if the hinges seem loose.

Window and windshield glass

Inspect the glass on the windows and windshields to make sure there are no cracks or chips. Even a small chip can lead to larger problems, so if you notice anything, speak to the seller.


Walk around the perimeter of the car to find out if it’s sitting level. You can also give a slight nudge to each corner of the car to see how many times it rebounds or bounces. One bounce typically indicates that the shock absorbers are working as they should be, whereas multiple bounces might indicate a problem.


Test out all headlights and brake lights to ensure they are working. You should also test the indicators. Visually inspect the lights for cracks, fog, and discolouration.

Tires and wheels

Pay special attention to the tires on the car, as these can reveal a lot about its condition. Examine the tread, not only to look for tread depth (remember that anything less than 1/16” in tread depth should not be driven), but also to look for how evenly the tread has worn. You should also check the wheels for any scuffs, cracks, or dents.

Interior vehicle checklist


Take note of how the car smells when you sit inside of it. Do you notice any strong odours, like food or cigarette smoke? Alternatively, if you notice a musty or mouldy smell, it could mean that there is water damage or leaks, so it’s best to check for wet patches. Remember that water damage can be expensive to fix, while strong odours can be difficult if not impossible to eliminate entirely.


Test out all seats, including the rear seats. Check for signs of wear and tear on the upholstering, like rips, tears, or stains. If you have a child and plan to put a car seat in the used car, bring it with you and install it to ensure it fits.

Gas and brake pedals

Test the gas and brake pedals to see how they feel. You don’t want the gas pedal to be too sensitive, and you don’t want rubber on the pedals to be worn in. If they are, this likely indicates high mileage.

Instruments and controls

Turn on the engine to check that the ignition switch is functioning as it should. We also recommend starting the car without starting the engine to check that all warning lights turn on correctly. Next, test out the various switches and buttons. This is also a great time to test out the air conditioning, heating, seat heaters, etc.

Sound system

Turn on the radio or try connecting your mobile phone via Bluetooth to test out the car’s sound system.


When sitting in the car, check the ceiling for stains or sags. Either can indicate that there is water damage to the vehicle. If the car has a sunroof, check that it opens or closes properly. Same with a convertible. You should also check the convertible roof for tears.


Open and close the trunk and look for strange odours or signs of water damage here. Use your hands to inspect the carpeting in the trunk as well. If there is a spare tire, inspect it the same way you did the other tires on the car, with extra attention to rust or other damage that arises from an improperly stored tire.

A quick note on hybrid and electric vehicles - if you are buying a used hybrid or electric car, check that the battery is charged before you take it for a test drive. This will allow you to determine how quickly the battery is drained. You should also ask questions about how the seller has been charging the vehicle so that you know what kind of power outlet is required.

Car insurance for used cars in Canada

Remember that car insurance is mandatory for allcars in Canada, and the previous owner’s car insurance policy cannot be transferred to you. This means that you will need to purchase a new auto insurance plan when you take ownership of the used car. When buying car insurance, we recommend enlisting the help of an experienced broker, like those at BrokerLink. All BrokerLink insurance advisors are fully licensed and have ample experience helping used car owners find great policies. As auto insurance experts, we can answer questions like whether insurance covers for towing and What documents do I need for car insurance? as well as help with tasks like renewing car insurance.

Of course, we also understand that all drivers want to save money on car insurance, which is why we’ve made it our mission to make car insurance as affordable as possible. Your dedicated BrokerLink insurance advisor can offer advice on the many ways that you can save money on car insurance, like bundling insurance policies or qualifying for a discount like low mileage car insurance. We can also provide helpful insight into how accidents affect car insurance rates. Give us a call today to find out how BrokerLink can help you find used car insurance.

Contact BrokerLink for more tips on what to check when buying a used car

Buying any type of car is a major decision, but this rings especially true for a used car. While used cars may be cheaper to purchase, you are at an increased risk of something going wrong. That is why thoroughly inspecting the vehicle and asking the seller lots of questions are so important. In addition, used cars require car insurance just the same as new cars. Thus, before you hit the road in your used vehicle, you must make sure that you have adequate car insurance.

In Ontario, all car insurance policies must meet the minimum coverage requirements set by the province, which includes four types of coverage, like uninsured automobile insurance. It’s worth noting that even if you already bought car insurance for another car in your household, you will still need to purchase a separate policy for the used car you buy.

The good news is that buying multiple auto insurance policies can save you money. Learn more about how used car insurance works and how to get the best possible rates by contacting BrokerLink today.

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